How to protect your great idea

Aspiring entrepreneurs often come up with innovative designs and ideas within their business.

These may trigger a host of questions regarding intellectual property (IP), patenting and protection of their idea/design.

I asked Roy Taberer, a patent attorney from Taberer Attorneys, about this process.

Your tagline, “Your partner in Innovation” is eye catching, tell us more about your business?

It encapsulates what we are all about. We are not just another stuffy legal practice.

We do specialise in intellectual property, however, we want to make IP relevant to the start-up entrepreneur.

An entrepreneur’s biggest asset is his idea. We want to help him by looking into that idea and ascertain if we can entrench that idea as an IP right.

Thereafter, we would like to partner with that entrepreneur and guide them through the legal maze of the start-up environment.

Why is IP protection important?

IP underpins the new economy which is based on ideas, innovation and information.

The biggest assets of companies that play in the new economy are IP assets – which include patents, designs, trademarks and copyright – and not the traditional physical assets of the old economy, such as machinery and buildings. If your innovation is not protected, you are in effect donating potentially your most valuable asset to the public.

There appear to be stages in the process of patenting?

Yes, there is very definitely a process. To get a patent, design or trademark you have to apply for the right.

This is a very formalistic process that a patent attorney can assist you with. Once the invention or trademark is defined, an application is prepared which is lodged with the respective office at the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC).

What follows is a long process wherein the application is processed, any shortcomings are remedied, and eventually – hopefully – your application is granted and you have a patent, design or trademark.

What are some key steps for budding entrepreneurs to consider?

While IP is important, an entrepreneur should not get too obsessed with the protection that IP affords.

In many cases the idea or innovation of an entrepreneur cannot be classified as an invention for a patent nor a design or trademark. In such an event, do not be discouraged. IP is a nice to have but does not define success.

Drive, passion and finding the right supportive partnerships or environment often does.

What “street smart” advice can you give to someone wanting to protect their idea/design?

Speak to a patent attorney before going public with your idea.

Because, once you have disclosed your idea to the public, you have lost the opportunity to patent, as the idea is no longer new.

If you have an invention, file a patent application as soon as possible. You do not have to first prove your invention works or build a prototype. Also, make sure that when you pitch your idea to a potential investor or partner that you precede the discussion with signing a non-disclosure agreement. That way, you can use the agreement to stop the person to whom you have disclosed the idea from using it without you.

Any parting words of advice?

If you have been sitting on that idea for a few months or years, take that first step to action.

Steve Reid is the manager of the Centre for Entrepreneurship (CFE) at False Bay College. Entrepreneurs with creative ideas in manufacturing can also contact the CFE at 021 201 1215.