A guide to protecting your big ideas in 2020

The controversy surrounding the concept of Somizi’s popular show, Dinner at Somizi’s has not yet been resolved but it has stressed the importance of protecting ideas. When you have a big, bright idea, who exactly can you depend to keep your confidence? In the Somizi case, Hastings Moeng has shared a series of emails he had written to Somizi and his associate Themba Zuma which sound a lot similar to the show currently being aired. by Ling Shepherd

Now Somizi has vehemently denied any wrongdoing and Multichoice is investigating the matter. In the meanwhile, how do you prevent anything similar from happening to you and your big ideas? 

In South Africa we have four types of Intellectual Property (IP) Protection, patent, design, trademark and copyright protection. 


A patent provides the inventor with the right to use and commercialise their invention. It must not exist anywhere else in the world. It must be completely original, and only disclosed to a third-party where a prototype needs to be made. Patent protection can last up to 20 years, keeping competition at bay and helps increase the value of your business. The Kreepy Krauly, swimming pool vacuum cleaner and the Dolosse large, unusually shaped concrete blocks weighing up to 20 tons designed to break up wave action and protect harbour walls; are examples of South African patents. 

The CIPC (Companies and Intellectual Property Commission  ) maps out applying for a patent in 5  steps. Register as a customer, Pay applicable fee, Conduct a search (so your invention does not fall in the categories excluded from patent protection), Apply for your Patent, then await Patent Registration. This process takes about 6 months until final registration. 


Design protection falls under two categories in South Africa – aesthetic design and functional design. Aesthetic designs need to be new and original. Functional designs need to be new and not commonplace. For example Carrol Boyes signature homeware in their signature pewter is an aesthetic design. Functional designs are those designs that have a function but the look is unique. A good example of this would be David Krynauw’s light designs. He didn’t invent lighting, but his designs are unique in that he makes haywire lighting; light that can be configured to fit any space. This protection can range between 10-15 years.


The only important question to answer here is if your mark is distinct? Protecting your trade mark will protect you from third parties using similar trademarks. They may sell the same products/services but will have to do so under a different trade mark.


Copyright protects your original works of authorship, this includes music, artistic and literary creations. This is so important for artists and creatives. Copyright protects your expression of ideas on a page. No registration is required for protection. Automatically your work is protected however there are requirements to be met. The idea should exist in your name. Put your name on the document, date it, and sign it.  Insist on and conclude an agreement where your idea is going to be used. To safeguard email, the parties you met with about the said meeting, detailing what was discussed and asking for acknowledgement of receipt of email. Copyright does have exceptions, and does not exist for an underlying concept. For example, an idea for an app that tracks the weather is not unique. However, the logo, layout and imagery will be unique to your idea.  All this protection is not enough, fair competition exists and is important in any developing economy.

The Copyright Amendment Bill of 2020 is yet to be signed into law. The Bill aims to empower authors, creatives, artists and other professionals in the publishing industry but it has received fierce criticism from some in the industry. It’s back in parliament right now for further deliberations. 

So, our verdict 

Instinct is always best, if you know your idea is good and potentially lucrative, get a lawyer. Write it down. Patent it, protect it and yourself. Use your Gmail or any email you have access to and email your ideas back and forth to yourself. Follow up any meeting with an email, create a paper trail. Most importantly follow up constantly. The law around IP is still being developed in terms of protection, so for now protect your ideas or keep silent till you can develop it. 

Featured image via Wikicommons