How to protect and monetise your Intellectual property

How to protect and monetise your Intellectual property

“Here’s something to think about: the only thing you really own is what you create. And the only thing you can create without needing someone else to give you the raw materials first… is intellectual property. You can write a book, or draw a picture, or compose music. Everything else is borrowed. It belonged to someone else before you and it will belong to someone else after you.” ― Caliban Darklock

According to the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), intellectual property (IP) refers to creations of the mind, these range from inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names and images that are used commercially.

Imagine realising that you have a palpable idea, the Monalisa to your Leonardo da Vinci, the Dropbox: network folder synchronisation to your Drew Houston and Arash Ferdowsi, or the Google to your Larry Page and Sergey Brin; something you can monetise, without any reference or inspiration from anyone, dead or alive. What happens then?

The road to making money out of your grand idea is quite hard to navigate while trying to keep your idea safe. We spoke to Leon Pierre Susan, a registered South African patent attorney with 9 years’ experience in intellectual property law, to find out how you can protect your Intellectual property.


If your idea is literary work, musical work, artistic work, cinematograph films, sound recordings, broadcasts, program-carrying signals, published editions or computer programmes, then it should be copyrighted.

A copyright is created as soon as an idea that falls under one of the nine works listed above is reduced to material form. It gives the author, designer, sculptor, painter, cinematographer etc. an exclusive and assignable legit right for a fixed number of years.

Because it comes into existence when the work is created, it is not possible to apply for a copyright, except in cases where the work produced is a film. The standard lifespan of copyright is 50 years, from the day that the work is made public, and in cases of literary works, until after the death of the author.

Non-disclosure agreement

A non-disclosure agreement comes in handy when you must share valuable information and possibly documents with potential partners, investors, distributors, employees, etc.

The contract is drawn to protect any type of confidential and proprietary information or trade secrets disclosed between the parties. The agreement is binding to those who sign it for as long as the parties have agreed upon, or up until the information disclosed is no longer confidential.


If you are an innovator and are always creating new things, then patents are your best friend. A patent is a document with technical information about a product or process that provides a new way of doing something, a new technical solution, or an additional feature to something that already exists. It ensures that the invention is not commercially reproduced, used, distributed or sold without the owner’s consent.

Patents are territorial, there is, unfortunately, no such thing as an international patent; this means that you need to apply for one in every country you wish to protect your invention in. According to Section 46(1) of the Patents Act 57 of 1978, the duration of a patent is 20 years from the application date.  The same period applies to most countries around the world.

Registered designs

Everything is packaged in something, the design is what appeals to the potential buyer’s eye, it is also where form meets function. Design protection gives you the opportunity to protect the physical appearance of your invention.

Your design must either be aesthetic, – it should appeal to the eye and must be new and original, or functional – it should serve a purpose and must be new and not common in the relevant art.


Your brand should have a unique mark, be it an image, text, slogan or chime, that distinguishes it from other products and services. A strong trademark is non-generic, non-descriptive and does not contain laudatory terms. It may be a made-up word that has no meaning in any language or a portmanteau which is two or more words combined into a new word which again does not have a direct translatable meaning.

To register a trademark, you or an agent will have to do a search of the register of trademarks to determine the availability of your proposed mark. If the trademark is not registered and available, you or an agent may file an application at the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) for the registration of the trademark. At present, the registration procedure takes at least 6 months from the date of filing, and once the trademark has been registered, it must be renewed after every 10 years.

It is now clear that there are different forms of protection for different forms of intellectual property. To ascertain which intellectual property protection is best suited for your business, it is best to consult a professional. Inventors should also keep in mind that there is a thin line between imitation and inspiration; enhancement and repackaging.

Established in 2015, Leon Pierre Susan operates a small intellectual property law practice in South Africa which focuses on providing clients with advice, assistance, and guidance to navigate the South African and African intellectual property landscape. Leon Pierre Susan is a registered patent attorney in South Africa and provides services for preparing and filing patents, registered designs, and trademarks in South Africa and Africa. Visit send an email to for more information.