Connect with us

Start-up Advice

They Say There’s No Such Thing As A New Idea, But If You Have One – Protect It!

Your inspiration has to come from somewhere, right? Your new product or service is your variation on an existing theme. And if it isn’t entirely new, it is unique and you need to make sure it stays that way.

Eustace Mashimbye




The protection of intellectual property is an interesting legal field. When is inspiration taken from an existing idea copycatting, when is it cultural appropriation or even misappropriation if you’re using a specific textile design, musical style or language that’s not your own? Can only an Italian open a pizza/pasta restaurant? Can only a Scotsman wear tartan?

Was it okay for Louis Vuitton to use the Basotho blanket as inspiration for a garment that carried a R33 000 price tag? Is it okay for Dr, as she is now, Esther Mahlangu to replicate Ndebele designs and paint New York streets with them? Was it okay for Laduma to take inspiration from Xhosa culture for the patterns on his cardigans and socks that got a certain Spanish retailer into trouble?

Related: Start-up Insights And Advice From Miles Kubheka, Founder Of The Vuyo Brand

Product development and evolution is a fact of life but presents certain legal challenges. Did Taxify copy Uber, or have they differentiated their product significantly enough other than on price? So called ‘disruptors’ always work on extending an existing concept and taking it further. So can an app that is similar to another be considered copycatting?

We all know that plagiarism in the academic field is a serious no no. School learners are required in the higher grades to run essays through websites that can detect if chunks of the text have been copied from already published works. And when is a new tune really just an old tune? Ask Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke who got their lines blurred where that is concerned.

So can you effectively protect your own IP, or not?

It is important from the outset for companies or original idea holders to register their trade mark, copyright their idea and establish their rights to their intellectual property, however insignificant in the market place it might be now. Even Apple and Nike had to start somewhere!

Related: 20 Quick Money-Making Business Ideas

IP is defined in four different categories – Patents, Trademarks,Trade Secrets (sssh!) or Copyrights and it’s important to identify into which category your idea or invention falls to make the registration process as quick, painless and inexpensive as possible.

Patents protect inventions and prevent others from making, using or selling your idea. But as an individual who has come up with the next best thing for your company, you also need to be aware that the idea may not belong to you, but to your employer.

A Trade Mark protects a word, phrase, symbol or similar. Registering a cultural emblem as a trade mark is an option for ethnic groups such as the Basotho to ensure cultural preservation of a design or artefact, but this may not always translate into real protection in the commercial market place. Still, it’s worth it if you have to stake your claim at some point in the future.

Trade secrets fall into the category of the recipe for CocaCola as one example. But also, if you’re a software developer, then this applies to algorithms you may have created. I hope your formula is locked in a safe somewhere.

Copyright refers to the authorship of a book, song, poem, play etc. This is where plagiarism is most rife and authors and composers would do well to assert their rights as soon as they have completed their magnum opus.

Some of the terminology and processes, including how long IP protection lasts (there are different expiry periods once you have registered a patent or trade mark etc) and so it is always best to consult a legal expert in this field.

As a member-based organisation, Proudly South African is always happy to assist its members in any matter including advice on their unique IP.

Related: How to Register a Trademark

Eustace Mashimbye is CEO of Proudly South African. His passion for all things local permeates everything he does, including his choice of locally made outfits. His favourite travel destinations are local (of course) and he still lives close to his birthplace, Mamelodi. He remains an avid fan of his home team, Mamelodi Sundowns. His second love after soccer is local music, and he can be found on weekends taking on the role of part time DJ.

Click to comment

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply

Start-up Advice

Put On Your Wellies: It’s Time To Wade Into Risk

Entrepreneurs aren’t all leaping into the unknown like lemmings off a cliff, but they do need to consider it…

Chris Ogden




You’ve had a great idea. You’ve looked into its development. You’ve recognised that it has potential beyond just what Auntie Mabel and Mike From The Grocer think. And you’ve clearly nailed a pain point that can make money. Now it is time to take the risk of running with it.

Every big idea comes with risk. You can’t step out into the world of entrepreneurial thinking and business development without it. Your idea may fail. It will also be time consuming, demanding, hungry for money, and hard work. It is unrealistic to expect that your project will leap out into the world and be an unmitigated success.

It is also unrealistic to assume that it isn’t worth taking this risk.

There are steps that you can follow to ensure that your risk is managed so you aren’t blindly leaping off that cliff…

Step 01: Do your research

No, canvassing your neighbours, friends and family is not doing research. You need to know that your idea will appeal to a broad market and that it will have significant legs. This may sound like daft advice, but you would be surprised how many people think an idea will take off just because Susan in Accounting said so.

Step 02: Understand the costs

Projects are hungry for money and investment. Realistically work out your budgets and how much it will cost to take your project off the ground and then stick to it.

A calculated risk is a far better bet than one that shoots from the hip and hopes for the best. You can also use this as an opportunity to draw a clear line under where you will stop investing and end the project. If it keeps eating money and isn’t getting anywhere with results you need to be able to walk away.

Step 03: Know when to walk away

As mentioned before, this can be defined by a line you’ve drawn in the proverbial sand (and budget) but no matter where you draw this line, you have to stick to it. Often, when time, money and energy have been poured into a project it can be incredibly hard to walk away.

You think ‘but I have put so much into this, just one more’ and then it gets to a point where the ‘just one more’ has taken you so far down the line that walking away feels impossible. Leave. Learn the lessons. Apply them to your next project.

Continue Reading

Start-up Advice

Mind The Gap

The entrepreneur’s guide to finding the gaps and building the right solutions.

Chris Ogden




Innovation may very well be the key to business success but finding the gap into which your innovative thinking can fit is often a lot harder than people realise. Some may be struck by inspiration in the shower, others by that moment of blinding insight in a meeting, however, for most people finding that big idea isn’t that simple. They want to be an entrepreneur and start their own high-growth business, but they need some ideas on how to find that big idea.

Here are five…

1. Network

It sounds trite but networking is actually an excellent way of picking up on patterns and trends in conversation and business problems. The trick is to note them down and pay attention. Soon, you will find patterns emerging and ideas forming.

2. Look for pain

Just as networking can reveal trends in the market, so can spending time reading. The latter will also help you find common business pain points. These are the touchpoints that frustrate people, annoy business owners, affect productivity, or impact employee engagement.

Be the Panado that fixes these pains.

3. Luck


This is probably the most annoying of the ideas, but it is unfortunately (or fortunately) very true. Luck does play a role in helping you capture that big idea. However, luck isn’t just standing around and random people offering you opportunities. Luck is found at networking events, it is found in research and it is found in conversations with other entrepreneurs.

4. Luck needs courage

You may have found the big idea through your network, a pain point or pure blind luck, but if you don’t have the courage to take it and run with it, you will lose it to someone else.

Being bold in business is highly underrated because most people assume that everyone is bold and prepared to take big leaps into the unknown. However, not all brilliant entrepreneurs were ready to throw their family funds to the wind and leap into an idea – they were courageous enough to figure out a way of harnessing their ideas realistically.

5. Pay attention

This is probably one of the most vital ways of finding a gap in the market. Often, people are so busy that they don’t really pay attention to that niggling issue that always bothers them on a commute, or in a mall, or at a meeting. This niggling issue could very well be the next big business opportunity. Pay attention to it and find out if that issue can be solved with your innovative thinking.

Continue Reading

Start-up Advice

5 Things To Know About Your “Toddler” Business

As you navigate this new toddler phase of your business, here are five things to bear in mind.

Catherine Black




Ah, toddlers. Those irresistible bundles of joy bring a huge amount of energy, curiosity and fun to any family – but there’s also frustration and worry that comes with their unpredictability, as they grow and start to become more independent. If you own a business and it’s successfully past its “infancy” of the first year or so, it’s likely it will also go through a toddler stage of its lifecycle.

Pete Hammond, founder of luxury safari company SafariScapes, agrees with this. “Our business is now three and a half years old, and we’ve found that we’re not yet big enough to justify employing a large team of people to handle the day-to-day admin tasks, yet we still need to grow the business as well,” he says. “As a result, our main challenge is finding the time to step back and see the bigger picture. Kind of like when you are raising a busy toddler and you spend most of your time running after them!”

As you navigate this new toddler phase of your business, here are five things to bear in mind:

1. This too shall pass

Everything in life is temporary – and that goes for both the good and the bad. It’s as helpful to remember this when you’re facing the might of a toddler temper tantrum, as it is when you’re facing throws of uncertainty in your business. If your new(ish) venture is going through a rough patch in its first few years, it can be easy to think about giving up – but don’t. As long as you have an overall big idea that you believe can add value to your customers, keep pushing through the rough parts until you come out the other side.

2. Appreciate what this phase brings

The toddler years mean that the initial newborn joy is officially behind you. But these small humans also bring their own kinds of joy, as you watch them learn new skills, say funny things, and give affection back to you. While your two-year-old business may not hold the same exhilaration for you as it did during those first few months, there are now different things to appreciate about it: Maybe you’re expanding your product range, or employing new people who can take the workload off you.

3. Establish boundaries

Toddlers thrive on boundary and routine – and your toddler business will too. As it grows into a new phase, try and establish limits in terms of the type of clients you want to work with and the type of work you’ll do. It’s also a good idea to make a decision about the hours you’ll work and when you’ll switch off, which will help you establish a good work-life balance.

4. Take a break

Every parent with a toddler needs a break every now and then, even if that means a walk around the block (on your own!), a dinner out with friends, or even a few days away. The same is true for a demanding small business: every so often, remember to take time out to rest properly, where you switch off your laptop and completely unplug. You’ll return much more inspired and resilient to deal with the everyday uncertainty that it brings.

5. Give it space to make mistakes

While the unpredictability of a young business can be stressful and tiring, it’s also a time for trying new things without the risk of huge consequences if they don’t quite work. After all, it’s much simpler to change your USP if you’re a small business employing a few people, rather than a big company where 50 people are relying on you for their salary, or where you’ve received a huge amount of investment capital. While you may fail in some of the things you try with your business (in fact, this is almost guaranteed), see it as a toddler that’s resilient enough to pick itself up, dust its knees and keep moving forward.

During this phase of business growth it’s also essential to have the right type of medical aid cover. There are medical schemes such as Fedhealth which has a number of medical aid options and value-added benefits to ensure that your health and wellness is taken care of too. After all, the healthier you and your staff are, the more productive your business will be – during the toddler (business) stage and beyond.

While this phase can be frustrating, it’s a sign that your business is growing and adapting, rather than remaining in its infancy, and that can only be a good thing! So embrace the difficulties, learn from them, and watch as your business strides forward confidently into the next exciting phase.

Continue Reading



Recent Posts

Follow Us

We respect your privacy. 
* indicates required.