Depending on your product, service and brand, you may need to secure international rights, trademarks or patents. This can be a minefield to negotiate but its critical that you do it properly.
The last thing you want is for someone to knock-off a unique idea or product that you’ve invested years in developing. Local knock-off artists will be able to manufacture the same product at a massively reduced cost, undercut your prices and quickly steal your market.
Protect Your Intellectual Property
Your product needs to be new and unique in the country to which you are exporting, and the patent will 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, generally 20 years but you need to renew it annually to keep it in force. Following application, the patent office in each country will carry out a formal examination of the product and conduct the relevant searches to ensure that your product or idea is not duplicating something that already exists in that country.
Bumbo, the company that developed the Bumbo Baby Sitter and won 2008 Gauteng Exporter of the Year, has considerable experience in international patent and trade mark registration. It exports a unique product to over 60 countries in the world and has had to register patents in each and every one of them.
There is no such thing as an international patent, but South Africa is one of 124 signatories to the Patent Cooperation Treaty. This enables co-operation and rationalisation between countries on the filing, searching and examination of patent applications.
The patent office in each country will still need to grant individual patents in that country but the international search and examination process enabled by the PCT is streamlined. This can mean considerable cost savings.
Also be aware that different products require different legislative protection. For example, Peppadew International needed to secure plant breeder rights in the countries to which it exports its products. Says Phil Ovens, MD, “It’s a bit like a patent in that it gives the person who discovered or created something protection from competition for a period of time to allow them to commercially exploit their discovery. And what’s important is that not only does it preclude other people from growing the product in those regions where we hold rights, but it also prevents people from other regions from selling the product in the areas where we have protection.”