Protect your bright ideas
If it’s worth the trouble, protect it
THE WORLD IS quite without conscience when intellectual property (IP) is concerned and it’s consequently becoming increasingly important for people to adequately protect their creations. Especially in developed countries, the extent of that protection has reached phenomenal proportions. For example, last year in the United States there were 440 000 new patent applications (8,3% more than in 2005) and 188 000 trademark registrations – a 31% increase over the previous year.
The registration of trademarks, patents, copyright and designs is also becoming increasingly important in SA and there are already scores of companies providing legal assistance and other services relating to intellectual property.
“Some of these firms are so big that they have special divisions specialising in trademarks, patents, designs and copyright,” says Spoor & Fisher chairman Chris Bull. There could even be further specialisation in terms of disciplines such as engineering, programming, biotechnology and nanotechnology.
According to legal firm Adams & Adams chairman Alan Smith, IP rights have great value. “For the innovator or creator they provide a mechanism for recovering research and development costs and rewarding inventiveness. For the consumer – who has to distinguish one product or service from another – a trademark guarantees a certain standard and quality.”
Franchising Plus marketing expert Eric Parker says, in his comprehensive business guide Road Map to Business Success, that effective protection of IP is becoming more important as the business world becomes increasingly knowledge based.
Says Parker: “Well-known trademarks can build up great monetary value in the course of time. The value of a good trademark can in fact far exceed a company’s so-called brick and mortar infrastructure on its balance sheet.”
Parker warns that though there’s no legal obligation to register with the Companies & Intellectual Property Registration Office (Cipro) in Pretoria, it’s undoubtedly worth doing so.
Smith says that IP consists of many different rights that arise due to individuals’ creative efforts and that registration is essential to ensure that the creation remains the designer’s property. Regardless of whether it’s a trademark, copyright in art, music or a liter- ary work – or patent rights for an invention – it becomes part of everyone’s daily life and protection is important.
“For example, you wake up in the morning and put on your Puma running shoes and Nike sports clothes to go for a morning run. Then you eat toasted Woolworths bread or Kellogg’s corn flakes – all trademarks. That’s followed by a quick shower using Palmolive soap, you brush your teeth with Aquafresh toothpaste and drive to work in your BMW.” On the way you may listen to a Westlife CD with a photo on the cover, all which are protected by copyright.
“All these trademarks, designs, copyrights or inventions are protected in one way or another and make us all part of a world economy. Progress in this world economy depends on those rights, because granting those rights justifies investments in them. Without IP rights this innovation would be largely discouraged.”
Smith says that entire industries are built on IP rights, such as the cellphone and computer industries. “More than 70% of the assets on Microsoft’s balance sheet consist of its intellectual capital, of which intellectual property makes up a substantial portion. “Intellectual property has so much value that it’s important to take trouble to protect it. Forging and piracy have increased enormously, as the growing number of judgments on them shows.”
Smith says that SA has excellent laws to protect IP. However, their application could improve. “It’s also shocking that 20% of South Africans have no qualms about buying pirated copies of CDs and DVDs, as was recently shown by figures from TNS Research Surveys. We’re concerned about the level of the crime in the country but are quite happy about creators and artists being robbed of their income.”
Smith says that the problem of IP being disregarded has much to do with that indifference and, until such time that people real-
SA has excellent laws to protect IP. However, their
application could improve.
ise they’re helping crime syndicates to fill their pockets and robbing IP owners of their income, it will simply get worse and worse.
Adams & Adams legal expert Gerrie Swart, who specialises in sports cases, praises the recent judgment in the Staaldraad Camp case as a victory for the personal rights of the Springbok rugby players involved and for copyright in SA. The judgment prohibits ProTect International from distributing a DVD concerning the controversial training camp or any adaptations of it, since that marketing would be a copyright violation.
Says Swart: “This is an important step forward in the application of the Act in relation to copyright and the protection of the image and dignity of individuals in SA.”
Allow designers and artists to have their income. Alan Smith