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You’re standing in the queue at the bank when you notice the person in front of you holding an ID book with your name and picture in it. What is your reaction?  Anger? Outrage? And now imagine that person reaching the bank teller and using your identity to withdraw money from YOUR account!

But what does this have to do with Intellectual Property?

Just as you feel outraged with someone using your identity to draw money out of your hard earned funds account, the same can be said for your IP in your business- your competitors will use your corporate identity, your unique designs and nifty packaging to steal your clients and their funds from right under your nose.

IP is the cornerstone of your business- from your corporate identity’s branding through to your catalogues’ copyright, we will look at the ins and outs of your intellectual property and how you should be protecting your company’s most valuable and often underappreciated asset.

What counts as Intellectual Property ?

Intellectual property is something unique that you physically create.

Every business has some kind of valuable intellectual property , whether it is :

Your invention

Your brand

Your point of difference from your competitors

Your secret recipe

Your original design

Why are IP rights important to you ?

Just like the caveman who created fire for the first time, Protecting and managing your IP assets is critical when establishing your presence in the market, especially since we are currently in an economy where information is shared at the click of a button.  Having a proper management system in place to record, protect, manage, police and generate profits from intellectual property rights is an essential tool in businesses today. It can mean the difference between the success or failure of your business.  IP rights encourage and reward your hard work and innovation -when you create something new and innovative, IP rights can give you the ability to protect it, and profit from it.

What types of IP do you have within your company?

Chances are good that you have many if not all of the various forms of IP within the different facets of your business. A single product can contain more than one form of IP – for example the name and logo can be trade marks and the artwork accompanying it being copyrightable, with the bottle’s unique shape being protectable by design, with perhaps a new patentable working part. It is important to identify your IP- as with any other asset, you cannot protect your intellectual property assets if you dont know what they are.

So you’ve identified the IP in your business, what now? How can you start to protect you IP?

You need to protect your IP, but protection will depend on what has been created. Some forms of IP have automatic protection, such as copyright which in almost all cases cannot be registered in any event. Trade marks do not have to be registered to be enforceable, provided that you can prove the mark has become distinctive through use in the market. But registering a trade mark generally makes more sense, as registration provides you with a statutory right which is much easier to enforce.  Others you need to apply for protection with no automatic protection being available, such as Patents and Designs.

With all IP, particularly those that have to be registered to protect and keep them safe from the onset by requiring anyone you discuss or share them with, to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement.

Global exercise

As the world has progressively become a smaller place, it has become important to assess brand related risks in other countries especially where goods or services are sold online. An IP audit can be an effective tool in all stages of a business and is the most efficient means of ensuring you are protecting yourself adequately in the different areas of Intellectual Property and making sure you protect these valuable assets properly, whether through registrations, enforcement, IP contractual clauses such as restraint and IP assignment provisions in employment contracts and Non Disclosure Agreements.

Trade Marks

You are a celebrity actor in a box-office hit of note; subsequently, someone publishes a book using your name as the author, riding on the success of the movie. Who you are is your trade mark. Your trademark is the unique and personal way that prospective customers identify your goods and services in the marketplace. They are the symbols, pictures and messages that make you stand out from everyone else. Trademark your own corporate identity and gives you exclusive rights to identify what is yours in the marketplace. It is the way by which companies launch and sell goods & services, communicating the essence of new products and lines, highlighting why it is great and better than all competing products.

What’s so great about a Trade Mark?

Imagine you have spent significant time and money on branding your goods, offices, transport and stationary with an unregistered trademark and it is challenged by another entity! That means precious start-up capital and resources have gone down the drain. Trade marks do not have to be registered to be enforceable, provided that you can prove the mark has become distinctive through use in the market. But registering a trade mark generally makes more sense, as registration provides you with a statutory right which is much easier to enforce. You have a lot on your mind as you set up your new venture and you should therefore leave the complications of registering your trademark to the experts. Exclusive rights prevent others from marketing products under same or confusingly similar mark.

Your trade marks are the cornerstone of your business – they are your corporate identity. If you look after it, use it and renew it every 10 (ten) years a trade mark is evergreen.

How Brands are built- through knowledge d esteem/loyalty- creates your brand structure

And through Relevance and differentiation you build your brand’s strength.

A trade mark is:

  • A great marketing tool
  • A valuable business asset
  • A means of securing investment in marketing efforts
  • A promoter of customer loyalty/ reputation / image of company

Types of trade marks i.t.o distinctiveness especially Apple and made up words vs Cape Town tours.

Conceptual, visual, phonetic similarity.

When choosing your trade mark, think of all the words you would generally use to describe your business and TRY AND AVOID THOSE WORDS. If you feel the need to use them, use them in conjunction as a noun with a word that has nothing to do with your goods or services. For example, VERTIGO sweets.


  • Useful for obtaining banks or third part finance
  • A source of revenue through licensing, which is where the owner retains ownership and agrees to the use of the TM by other companies in exchange of royalties > licensing agreement (business expansion/diversification)
  • A crucial component of franchising agreements, which is the licensing of a TM central to franchising agreement. The franchiser allows franchisee to use his way of doing business
  • Selling/assigning TM to another company (merger & acquisitions/raising of cash)


thieves steal ideas, business idea