Intellectual property is a term commonly thrown around by successful entrepreneurs with matured businesses that receive millions in annual turnover thanks to their protected ‘trade secrets’. However, some entrepreneurs and innovators with start-up companies may find that the process of protecting their intellectual property tedious, expensive or pointless, especially as a small business. They couldn’t be more wrong. Protecting your intellectual property as an innovator and entrepreneur is important, regardless of how big or small your business may currently be.
The National Intellectual Property Management Office (NIMPO), an entity within the Department of Science and Innovation and a tenant at The Innovation Hub, aims to protect intellectual properly and intellectual rights that are created with public funds. Intellectual property, commonly referred to as IP, refers to creations of the mind that can be protected by law. IP rights are thus property rights belonging to the creators (or owners) and allows them to benefit from their own work and exclude others from copying and using their creations. IP rights are secured through patents, trademarks, copyright, plant breeders’ rights and registered designs.
South Africa is a very creative and innovative nation, therefore protecting IP is paramount, as poaching ideas is a prominent business in international companies. Parthy Chetty, the CEO of South Africa’s premier science fair for school students, the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists, recently observed that they are aware that at especially international competitions there are scouts or “poachers” of ideas/IP. IP needs to be protected to ensure that the innovator can keep others from using their IP.
Since the conception of NIMPO, it has primarily served universities and science councils who conduct research and development. However, NIMPO in conjunction with the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) and the World Intellectual Property Commission (WIPO), provide a platform called the Technology Innovation Support Centre (TISC) which aims to stimulate innovation and economic growth in South Africa for SMMEs, entrepreneurs and innovators by facilitating access to technological information such as:
The TISC platform also provides access to distance learning courses and TISC workshops on IP-related topics. SMMEs, innovators and IP creators also have access to a number of training initiatives that NIPMO organises each year in conjunction with WIPO, CIPC and other organisations. Once such event is the WIPO-NIPMO Intellectual Property Innovation Policy workshop which is offered to enhance the skills and knowledge of officials dealing with innovation policy and intellectual property strategies, as well as WIPO Summer School on IP and Transfer of Technology which provides an opportunity for senior students and young professionals to acquire deeper knowledge of each domain of intellectual property (IP) and of the role and functions of WIPO.