By Nomali Cele
For people in creative and innovative industries, ideas are everything. But in a capitalistic system where money rules everything, all these ideas need external investment to come to life. When submitting proposals and pitching their ideas, inventions and more opens creators up to theft. For many creative or innovative people, having their ideas stolen has almost become something of a job hazard but one they have to accept none the less because, more often than not, they are dealing with big corporates, which have the funds and lawyers to drag out the battle for the idea or product.
As a creator, you do have rights that are recognised by the law. The burden, however, is with you to prove that the idea was yours, that you shared it with the parties who have ripped you off and that you deserve compensation. Again, capitalism.
There are different types of legal ways to register your intellectual property
You know how you can’t just pitch a concert and perform someone else’s song and make money; or how you are not allowed to photocopy and redistribute books? That’s copyright, which the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission describes as, “A copyright is an exclusive right granted by law for a limited period to an author, designer, etc. for his/her original work.”
So if you are working in an industry where you are producing tangible works (songs, film, visual art, computer programmes etc) you can assert your copyright if you believe it has been violated.
A trademark – or that little “tm” next to a name, slogan etc – is a way to show that something is a legally registered brand name or a logo. According to CICP, a trademark is used to identify them, “services or goods of one person and distinguishes it from the goods and services of another.”
Trademarks are an important way for creators to distinguish their creations or assert superior quality. To this end, you can’t trademark “chicken” but you can trademark your brand, selling points or recipes.
For a trademark to be recognised, it has to be registered and renewed every 10 years.
Patents deal specifically with those creators who invent or create new processes of getting something done. A patent can be held exclusively for 20 years in South Africa and, in that time, other creators and organisations will not be able to use your new invention or process in their own work.
Patent come in three categories: utility patents, design patents and trade secrets. Some companies refrain from applying for patents opting to keep their inventions as trade secrets. Applying for and registering for a patent makes it public information. Sure rivals cannot use the invention but it makes “moving in silence” that much harder.
Like trademarks, patents require that you pay a renewal fee, only annually this time.
There are other, informal, ways to assert your intellectual property, such as keeping all written communication between you and the organisations you are trying to get funding from. An inability to patent or trademark your ideas doesn’t make it moral or legal for those with money to steal from you. So always keep the receipts when communicating with potential investors so you have a leg to stand on should you suddenly see your idea in living colour without your knowledge or you getting compensated and credited as the originator.