As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads across the globe, companies are scrambling to find a cure and be the first to own patent rights to a vaccine against the virus. In South Africa, the Patents Act does not define an invention but rather lists a number of exclusions as to what could constitute a patentable invention. In particular, the act specifies that a scientific discovery is not an invention, which raises the question of whether the genetic sequence of COVID-19 could be patented in South Africa.
The Copyright Act defines a 'computer program' as a set of instructions fixed or stored in any manner and which, when used directly in a computer, directs its operation to bring about a result. From this definition, it is apparent that source code forms the subject matter of copyright protection as a computer program. However, the owner of the copyright in a computer program cannot object if a third party mimics the functionality of the computer program, provided that the third party had no access to its source code.
Trademark applications are examined by the Office of the Registrar of Trademarks approximately eight to 10 months after their date of application. This article discusses several possible conditions that examiners often prescribe for accepting trademark applications and which applicants must therefore consider before filing.
A trademark will not be registered, or can be removed from the register, if it is inherently deceptive or likely to deceive or cause confusion, contrary to law, against good morals or likely to offend anyone. This article provides insight into the contrary to law provision, particularly insofar as it relates to the controversial discussion regarding the partial legalisation of cannabis in South Africa and its impact on trademark law.
Copycat products imported into South Africa often replicate well-known brands. In such cases, an analysis must be undertaken to determine whether the owner of the legitimate well-known brand can sue based on various grounds. In this respect, although word marks are often seen as the most important because they are a brand's primary name, from an enforceability perspective, filing a part mark can help to avoid ambiguity.
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.
What should a company do when its distributor terminates their supply and distribution contract stating that it is more economical for it to acquire the products from another company? If the first company has a registered patent for the products that the other company is manufacturing, it can institute infringement proceedings. However, the question then becomes against whom should it institute these proceedings: the distributor or the company infringing its patent?
Professional and amateur bakers are often inspired by the extravagant and intricately designed cakes shown on TV shows. However, this begs the question of whether bakers can reproduce these cakes (or at least try to) without getting into trouble. Perhaps surprisingly, the answer is probably no, as these creations may be subject to copyright protection. Therefore, as with all copyright infringement, it is important to be cautious when taking inspiration from other people's creations.
Many corporates and start-ups that enlist third-party graphic designers to create logos or corporate identities during a rebrand are unaware of the legal implications of contracting third parties and thus often find themselves in costly and time-consuming litigation. This is because, under South African law, a third-party graphic designer commissioned to design a corporate's logo will own the copyright in said work. To avoid this situation, a logo must be assigned from a third-party graphic designer to the corporation or start-up immediately.
Two IT entrepreneurs recently applied for an interdict to prevent an asset management company from using (ie, infringing) their invention. The case has raised many questions regarding the validity of certain patents, including what protections are afforded to entrepreneurs. Young entrepreneurs in particular are encouraged to follow this case earnestly to ensure that they are well acquainted with South African patent law and thus able to protect their inventions.
Business owners often fail to conduct trademark availability searches before they register their company name at the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC). The CIPC considers only identical or confusingly similar company names that are contained on the company names register (and not those that are contained on the trademarks register) to be potential blocks to registration. Therefore, company names that proceed to registration may infringe on trademark rights as set out in the Companies Act.
In an age where business is conducted online, trademarks are commercialised through websites and social media pages and consumers want to deal with businesses online instead of face to face, a business' virtual address is of the utmost importance if it wants to drive traffic to its website and conclude commercial transactions online. So, what happens if a third party registers a domain name that incorporates an existing trademark? How can trademark owners begin to take action and enforce their rights?
According to the Copyright Act, for copyright to subsist in a work, the work must be original and reduced to material form. However, if ideas and innovation are the result of the shared lived experience of the common person, how can it be determined whether a work is 'original' as defined in, for example, the Copyright Act? In order to be original, a work need not be innovative or new, but rather the result of the author's own skill, time and effort expended in creating the work.
South Africa has seen a dramatic rise in entrepreneurial activity, with many seeking to launch new products in the marketplace. However, with the success of a product comes the risk of the idea being copied and advantage being taken of the already established route to market, thereby affecting the original product's sales and brand. Therefore, any party that creates or legitimately distributes a product that they believe will be well received must take the appropriate steps to protect it.
A granted patent is a highly lucrative commercial tool in the hands of the patent applicant. However, inventors are not necessarily entitled to apply for a patent, especially in employment contexts. Inventors are therefore advised to consult with a patent attorney when they are uncertain whether an invention falls within the scope and course of their employment. It is further advisable to enter into negotiations with employers regarding compensation for the invention.
Patenting inventions is notoriously expensive; however, the benefits of having exclusive rights over an invention far exceed any initial patenting costs. The problem remains that a decision on whether to patent an invention must often be made long before the invention's commercial potential can be judged. As such, it is often difficult to know what to patent.
The Designs Act (195/1993) gives the proprietor of a registered design control over it for a limited period. This control is not aimed at protecting an underlying concept, but rather at the appearance of a product embodying the design. This article discusses (among other things) proprietor rights, the difference between aesthetic and functional designs and the costs involved in registering a design.
Many celebrities extend their brands by venturing into various industries, such as Bonang Matheba who recently launched her own range of sparkling wine. While these endeavours can work well, they also create opportunities for individuals to infringe on the IP rights embedded in celebrities' respective ventures. As such, there are a number of IP rights that celebrities can use to maintain control over their brands and regulate how they are used by others.
South Africa has no plant patent system, as the Patents Act states that a patent will not be granted for any variety of plant. Therefore, new plant varieties are protected exclusively under the Plant Breeders' Rights Act. However, genetically modified plants could be patentable subject matter under the Patents Act, as they are not strictly classed as new varieties of plant.
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.