Copyright, Patents, And Trademark Registration In South Africa: What You Need To Know To Protect Your Intellectual Property


Intellectual property is a crucial aspect of business in South Africa. Creators and companies invest significant time and resources into developing original works, brands, and inventions. However, without adequate protection, they can be vulnerable to infringement and misappropriation by competitors. Three key legal tools for protecting intellectual property in South Africa are copyright, patent, and trademark registration.

Copyright, trademark registration, and patent registration are legal tools for protecting intellectual property in South Africa. Copyright protects original works such as music, books, and software, trademark registration protects brands and logos, and patent registration protects inventions.

Without adequate protection, intellectual property is vulnerable to infringement and misappropriation, which can have severe consequences for creators and businesses, from loss of revenue to damage to their reputation. Therefore, understanding the legal tools available to protect intellectual property is essential for anyone operating in South Africa’s business landscape.


Copyright In South Africa

Copyright protects the original works of authors, artists, and other creators from unauthorized copying, distribution, and reproduction. Typically, you would create original work through your own labour and creativity.

You must have either written down or recorded the work for it to be copyrightable. A thought or idea is not considered protectable through copyright.

Examples of copyrightable works include:

  • Literary works
  • Artistic works
  • Musical works
  • Cinematographic films
  • Sound recordings
  • Published editions
  • Program-carrying signals
  • Among others


In South Africa, the Copyright Act 98 of 1978 governs copyright issues and sets out the rights of copyright owners and the limitations on those rights. Under the Copyright Act, copyright protection is automatic. It does not require registration, which means the creator is automatically the copyright owner as soon as they create a work.

Typically, copyrights are granted for 50 years with a start time depending on the type of work it is associated with.


Trademark Registration In South Africa

Trademarks, however, are distinctive signs used to identify and distinguish the goods or services of one business from those of another. Trademarks can include words, logos, symbols, and other visual elements.

In South Africa, the Trade Marks Act 194 of 1993 governs trademarks, provides for their registration, and sets out the rights and obligations of trademark owners. Unlike copyright, trademark protection is not automatic, and you must register them with the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC).

To register a trademark in South Africa, you must submit an application form and pay the relevant fees. The application must include the following:

  • A clear representation of the trademark;
  • A list of the goods or services for which the trademark will be used;
  • A statement identifying the owner of the trademark.


The CIPC examines the application to ensure that the trademark meets the requirements for registration, including that it is distinctive and not confusingly similar to other trademarks.

Trademark registration is valid for an initial period of 10 years, after which you can renew it every ten years indefinitely. Once you have registered your trademark, you have exclusive rights to use it concerning the goods or services it is registered for, which means that no one else can use a similar or identical trademark in a way that would create confusion in the marketplace.


Patent Registration In South Africa

A patent is another form of intellectual property that protects inventions and gives the inventor exclusive rights to prevent others from making, using, or selling the invention without their permission. In South Africa, patents are governed by the Patents Act 57 of 1978.

If you wish to obtain a patent in South Africa, the invention must meet specific criteria, including novelty, inventive step, and industrial applicability.

  • Novelty: The invention must be new and not already disclosed or available to the public.
  • Inventive step: The invention must not be obvious to someone with ordinary skills in the relevant field.
  • Industrial applicability: The invention must have some practical use or application.


Patent registration in South Africa is done through the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC). The application process can be arduous and complex, and seeking professional advice from a patent attorney is recommended.

Once a patent gets granted, the inventor has exclusive rights to the invention for 20 years from the application date. During this time, the inventor can license or sell the patent to others, generating additional revenue.

Patents are essential for protecting inventions and encouraging innovation. By providing exclusive rights to inventors, patents can incentivize them to invest time and resources in developing new technologies and products.


Why Copyright, Trademark, And Patent Registration Are Important

Copyright, patent, and trademark registration are critical for protecting your creative works, brand identity, and inventions in South Africa.

Here are some reasons why:

  • Evidence of Ownership: While copyright protection is automatic, trademark and patent registration provides proof of ownership and can help protect against infringement and counterfeiting.
  • Exclusive Rights: Copyright, patent, and trademark registration give the owner exclusive rights to use the work, trademark, or invention.
  • Legal Remedies: If someone does infringe your copyright, trademark, or patent, registration makes it easier to take legal action against them.
  • Brand Recognition: Trademarks are central to brand recognition and can help businesses build a strong reputation in the marketplace. By registering a trademark, a company can prevent others from using similar trademarks that could confuse customers and protect its brand identity. Patents, on the other hand, safeguard inventions and provide a competitive advantage in the marketplace.
  • Licensing and Franchising: Registered copyrights, trademarks, and patents can be licensed or franchised, allowing the owner to generate additional revenue from their intellectual property.
  • International Protection: Copyright, trademark, and patent registration can protect outside South Africa. Many countries have reciprocal agreements recognizing each other’s copyright, trademark, and patent laws, making it easier to protect your intellectual property in multiple jurisdictions.


Copyright, patent, and trademark registration are three essential legal tools for protecting your intellectual property in South Africa. While they refer to different aspects of intellectual property law, they all provide vital benefits, including evidence of ownership, exclusive rights, legal remedies, and brand recognition.

If you wish to discuss the options available to safeguard your intellectual property, our Burnett Attorneys & Notaries team would gladly assist you. We have extensive experience in trademark registration procedures and can advise you on the best option and process to protect your intellectual property. Please get in touch with us to set up an appointment.