You have probably heard about intellectual property, or IP, when people talk about inventions, medicines and even pirating music and movies.
But what is it really and why is it important?
According to the World Intellectual Property Organisation IP refers to creations of the mind such as inventions, literature,
art, designs, symbols, names and images used in commerce.
However, like any piece of property, you must protect your IP if you want to gain any benefit from it.
If you invent a gadget, that gadget and how it works are your intellectual property. You could be given a patent for your gadget,
providing it is new to the world and has never been seen before you invented it.
The patent is legal protection for a set amount of time that stops someone else from using or making money from your gadget. In fact, a patent is a piece of property which is capable of being bought and sold, licensed to and from someone and gives the owner the right to control access and use of his or her intellectual property. Sometimes, having a patent is enough to deter competitors from trying to copy your technology!
By protecting IP, inventors and innovators have an incentive to continue their work; to make money from their inventions and to further develop their ideas.
Copyright is another form of IP. For example, if you write an original book or piece of music, you are automatically granted copyrights to that work.
This prevents someone else from copying your work, changing it or even making money by selling it. Copyright can be granted to original creations such as books, music, and movies etc.
For more information on types of IP that exist, click here
South Africans are avid inventors and many important inventions were developed by locals. South Africa also has a huge wealth of indigenous knowledge developed over thousands of years and handed down over generations that could benefit the world in many ways. By protecting this knowledge, the country will not only be able to apply its innovations to solve local problems but also sell that knowledge to other countries, generating wealth that would benefit all of society.
By protecting the IP of our local innovators, we encourage them, and others, to keep on creating.
The patenting process typically starts with the filing of a provisional patent application, which is a secret document and is not disclosed to the public.
This application does not provide any protection but instead gives the inventor at least twelve (12) months to further develop the invention before filing the next application which may be : (a) a complete patent application, in order to ultimately get a granted South African patent; or (b) a PCT patent application following which applications must be filed in each country where one wants patent protection. Only once the patent application has been granted does one have legal protection.
To learn more about protecting your IP visit the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission
To get a patent granted can cost up to R250 000 in a single country such as Japan, China or the USA. It is not worth spending all that money if you don’t plan on commercialising your invention. So the question is where can you get the initial funding to help you get patent protection? Well some banks will give you a loan! There are a few government instruments that can assist including the Technology Innovation Agency’s patent support fund and the Support Program for Industrial Innovation. Some venture capital firms would also be will to provide funding. Alternatively, you can get creative and use “crowdfunding” to raise the necessary capital to start building your patent empire (https://www.kickstarter.com/; http://peerbackers.com/)!