Intellectual Property refers to any creations of the mind or ideas that result from intellectual effort which include intangible assets such as music, literature, art, inventions, words, phrases, symbols and designs. With the rise of the Information Age, the value of information has been greatly emphasized and a need arose to protect valuable data. Laws protecting tangible objects from theft already exist, but they could not be applied to intangible data. Intellectual Property Rights came into existence to protect such intangible items through patents, trademarks, designs and copyrights.
Intellectual Property Rights ensure that exclusive rights to intangible objects are assigned to their licensed owners and are legally protected against theft. A single design or idea may contain several different features that need to be registered under one or more of the intellectual property rights in South Africa. The different aspects under which these articles are covered may overlap, but collectively, they provide a system of design protection.
In South Africa, CIPC (Company and Intellectual Property Commission), is responsible for the registration of all categories of Intellectual Property Rights. CIPC is a result of a merger between SACRO (South African Company Registration Office) and SAPTO (South African Patents and Trade Marks Office). CIPC is responsible for keeping record of all patents, trademarks, designs and copyrights and details about their ownerships in South Africa.
South Africa is signatory to the International Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property which relates to patents, designs and trademarks. This Convention provides recognition of rights of priority of designers, inventors and trademark owners who have filed for intellectual property rights in a specific country.
The Community Trademark Convention allows South African applicants to file a trademark application with the Community Trademark Office, which will be relevant across the entire European Union.
A patent application submitted to the European Patent Office will cover 31 European countries and 5 extension states. An application to the Eurasian patent convention will have affect throughout 9 countries of the former Soviet Union.
South Africans are capable of registering patents regionally to cover several African countries through ARIPO, which covers 13 former British colonial African countries and OAPI, which covers 15 former French colonial African countries. These regional patent grants do not include South Africa, Namibia or Mozambique.
Local and international legislation with regards to these Intellectual Property Rights are constantly being reviewed and changed.