What is a Patent?

A patent is an exclusive right granted for an invention, which is a product or a process that provides a new way of doing something, or offers a new technical solution to a problem.

The patent provides protection for the owner, which gives him/her the right to exclude others from making, using, exercising, disposing of the invention, offering to dispose, or importing the invention. The protection is granted for a limited period of 20 years.

A patent can last up to 20 years, provided that it is renewed annually before the expiration of the third year from the date of filing in South Africa. It is important to pay an annual renewal fee to keep it in force. The patent expires after 20 years from the date of application.

What can be Patented?

Section 25 of the Patent Act, Act 57 of 1978 defines the scope of patentable inventions in negative by specifying what cannot be patented.

A patent may, subject to the provisions of this section, be granted for any new invention which involves an inventive step and which is capable of being used or applied in trade and industry or agriculture. These include inventions such as appliances, mechanical devices and so on. However, you may not protect things such as :

  • Computer programmes
  • Artistic works
  • Mathematical methods and other purely mental processes
  • Games
  • Plans, schemes, display of information
  • Business methods
  • Biological inventions
  • Methods for treatment of humans and animals

Please note that the above mentioned things cannot be patented as such.  For example, a computer programme is patentable as part of a technical solution, i.e. when it is used to operate a specific device or machine such as a winder, a crane or parking management.

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