Patent protection of living organisms – and the substances derived therefrom – has long been an area of confusion and controversy in South Africa. However, there has been a recent move towards clearer boundaries regarding what constitutes patentable subject matter in relation to living things.
An element isolated from the human body or otherwise produced by means of a technical process, including the sequence or partial sequence of a gene, may constitute a patentable invention. However, when considering the patenting of a life sciences invention in South Africa, a number of questions should be addressed in relation to, among other things, the invention's novelty, inventiveness and usefulness.
South Africa is an attractive launch pad for many international companies when it comes to the protection and enforcement of intellectual property for their services or products that they wish to share with Africa. Even more attractive is South Africa's simple, quick and affordable patent system. There is no patent opposition in South Africa and the validity of a patent can be challenged only post-grant by way of the court system.
South Africa has the largest pharmaceutical products market in Africa, with patentability being the economic driver for research and innovation. However, applicants are often unfamiliar with the position of second medical uses, method of treatment claims and Swiss-type claims in South Africa due to the significant differences in the applicable legislation compared to other jurisdictions such as Europe and the United States.