Intellectual Property (IP) can exist in the form of an invention, brand, design or artistic creation. IP is an important asset in today’s knowledge economy and should be managed. However, it’s important to know that there are various types of IP protection available.

Types of IP protection.

The Companies and Intellectual Properties Commission (CIPC) of South Africa administers the following IP domains in South Africa: trade marks, patents, designs and copyright.

Trade Marks

  • A trade mark identifies the goods or services of a trader as distinct from those of other traders.
  • The owner has the exclusive right to use, sell or license the trade mark.

Trade marks can include logos, words, letters, numbers, colours, a phrase, sound, scent, shape, picture, aspect of packaging or branding – or any combination of these. The name and slogan of a company, for example, can be trade marked.


  • A patent protects how an invention works or functions.
  • The owner has the exclusive right to use, sell or license the invention. Patents also allow the owner to stop others from manufacturing, using, copying and/or selling the device or process.

Patents include inventions, such as devices, products, processes, substances or a combination of known elements in any field of industry and agriculture, which are new or have industrial applications. A new way of enhancing people’s hearing, for example, could be patented.

Aesthetic designs & functional designs:

  • The visual appearance of a product is protected, but not the way it works.
  • Appearance that has a feature necessitated by its function.
  • The owner has the exclusive right to use, sell or license the registered design.

This category includes Industrial designs, which could include the shape of a car, for example.


  • Automatically protected.
  • The owner has the exclusive right to use, sell or license the copyright work

Copyright would include paintings, art, literature, music, film, broadcasts and computer programs. The moment the work has been created, it is automatically protected.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)


The Companies and Intellectual Properties Commission | CIPC

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