South African registered designs may be filed for the appearance of an article, provided that the particular appearance is new when compared to other articles of a similar nature. In South Africa, designs are protected in terms of the South African Designs Act No. 195 of 1993 which makes provision for a monopoly to be granted to the owner of South African registered designs for a certain duration. A South African registered design does not protect the underlying concept of a product, but rather the appearance embodying the design. The owner of a registered design may exclude others from copying, making, importing, using or even advertising any article in the class in which the design is registered that embodies the registered design (or is not substantially different from the registered design).
Inventors of new products are often confused between the protection afforded by a patent versus the protection afforded by a registered design application. In short, a patent protects a new invention, in other words, the new way in which something works, whereas a registered design application protects the new appearance of a product, generally irrespective of the way in which the product works. Therefore, if a product already exists that works exactly the same way as a newly designed product, the newly designed product will not be eligible for patent protection due to the strict novelty and inventiveness requirements. If, however, the newly designed product has a new appearance, it may be protected through a South African design application (despite the newly designed product working in the same way as an existing product).
A simple example would be where someone designs a new pen. The pen works in exactly the same way that existing pens work, but it looks different. Although the concept of a pen is not new, and the new pen can thus not be patented, the designer expended time and effort to produce a unique looking pen, which he/she does not want someone else to simply copy and gain the advantage of the designer’s work. In such an instance, the designer may file a South African design application for the appearance of the new pen. Although, the designer will not be able to stop someone else from making pens, he/she will be able to stop someone else from making pens that have the same (or similar) appearance as the new protected pen.
International Design protection
Generally, within 6 months from the filing of a South African Design application, foreign design applications may be filed claiming priority from the South African Design application. Thus, within the first 6 months, a South African Design application will reserve your rights in most countries of the world.
Some examples of typical articles filed as registered design applications:
Foodstuff, clothing, shoes, suitcases, handbags, textiles, patterns on fabrics, carpet designs, tread patterns, furniture, glassware, cutlery, cooking utensils, tools and hardware, handles, packaging and containers, clocks, watches, jewellery, toys, training equipment, weapons, medical and laboratory equipment, building units and construction elements, mechanical devices, household appliances, hygiene devices, light fittings, integrated circuits, mask works, user interfaces, logos.