Why protect your IP?
This part is easy. Your whole business model is jeopardised if a competitor is able to –
- Copy your trading names, branding, inventions, creative works or designs
- Use your bright ideas, trade secrets and other confidential information or
- Entice away your staff who hold valuable intellectual property about your business in their minds.
What is it and how can you protect it?
In the narrow sense, Wikipedia’s Intellectual property (“IP”) definition is useful – “a legal concept which refers to creations of the mind for which exclusive rights are recognised” is a good summary of the concept. But it is important also to understand the differences between the various types of IP – Trade Marks, Copyright, Patents, Designs and Plant Breeders’ Rights which we will discuss below and which enjoy legal protection under our laws.
In the wider sense, your bright ideas, confidential information and trade secrets such as customers, suppliers’ details and the like of your business as well as its valuable staff members also constitute your IP. However this kind of IP generally needs protecting by contracts and it is a highly specialised field of law for which expert legal advice is essential.
When it comes to trade marks, copyright, patents, designs and Plant Breeders’ rights the table below is a greatly simplified guide to –
- What each type of protection covers,
- How it works in practice, and
- How you can acquire it (and keep it).
Note – this again is a specialised field of law with many grey areas and potential overlaps, so take advice on specifics!
Don’t forget International protection
A final thought: Take advice on whether you need any form of international protection or whether local (South African) protection is all you need – in some cases you have to apply separately in other jurisdictions for foreign protection.