Most successful businesses come up with new ideas, inventions, designs or brands that make them stand out in the market place. This intellectual property is generally intangible, so you can't lock it away in a storeroom to keep it safe. But you do have the right to prevent others from 'stealing' your ideas and using them for their own commercial gain.
The state takes responsibility for registering your ideas - through the Companies and Intellectual Property Registration Office
(CIPRO). The process of registration can be complex, however, so you may need to employ expert legal advice.
Also, if you need to go to court to defend your intellectual property rights, you have to do that at your own expense.
There are a number of ways of protecting your intellectual property:
- If you have an invention, you can protect it with a patent. This gives the inventor the exclusive right - usually for 20 years - to produce and sell the product. During this period, the invention cannot be commercially made, used, distributed or sold without the owner's consent.
- If you are an author or designer, you will generally have automatic protection - or copyright - of your work, unless you have been specifically commissioned to produce it for an employer or customer. It is therefore not necessary to apply for copyright (unless the product is a film), but you need to put the words "Copyright", "Copyright Reserved" or "Copyright [Your Name] 2004" on the work. You can also use the copyright sign: "© [Your Name] 2004".
- As a designer, you can go further than copyright, and register a design. The registration gives you an exclusive right for 10 years (for aesthetic designs) or 15 years (for functional designs). The registration has to be renewed annually.
- If you've come up with a catchy brand name (like Spar), logo (like the Nike 'tick') or slogan (like 'Yebo, Gogo'), you can register it as a trade mark. While you can just go to court defend un-registered names or phrases that your business uses, it is easier to protect them if you have officially registered them. The registration needs to be renewed every ten years, and can protect you forever.