The definition of intellectual property or “IP” as it is commonly referred to is “creations of the mind”. This includes any literary and artistic works as well as an individuals designs, symbols, names or any images used in commerce.

Intellectual Property is divided into two categories – Industrial Property and Copyright.

Industrial Property:

  • Patents for inventions
  • Trademarks
  • Industrial designs
  • Geographical indications


  • Literary works
  • Films
  • Music
  • Artistic Works
  • Architectural design

How is Intellectual Property Protected in South Africa?

All Intellectual property is protected by the law. However, because intellectual property is intangible, it is more difficult to protect than other types of property.

There are four acts of parliament in South Africa that govern the country’s intellectual property laws – Copyright, Patents, Trademarks and Registered Designs.


Copyright Act: The copyright on a written work lasts for 50 years after the author has died. That on a film or television broadcast lasts for fifty years after it was first made or shown. The copyright on a computer program remains valid for 50 years after the program was made public.


Patent Act: The patent law prevents others from making, using, exercising, or disposing of the invention in question. In terms of the South African Patents Act there is nothing to prevent an individual from registering their own provisional patent application, however, it is advisable to have a patent attorney attend to this matter in view of the legal aspects of the application.


The Trademarks Act: can only protect trademarks if they are first registered with CIPC in Pretoria, South Africa. Unregistered trade marks may still be defended in terms of common law, but the registration procedure results in a registration certificate being issued, which has legal status, allowing the owner of the registered Trade Mark the exclusive right to use that mark.

Registered Designs

Registered Designs Act: A design essentially refers to the shape and other features of an article that appeals to the eye. Under the South African Designs Act, designs that may be registered with CIPC fall into two categories, some by their function and others by their aesthetic appeal. An article of jewellery, for example, would be dictated by its aesthetic appeal, whereas a new tyre tread pattern would fall into the functional category.

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