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The Institute receives enquiries about inventions and innovations daily and it’s interesting to see that many of these are similar because the same issues come up repeatedly. We have answered a variety of questions below, but if you think there is something that we have not covered, and you have read through them all, then please get in touch with us and we will do what we can to answer your query.

We note too that these answers are informational only and you need to check and do further research as necessary.

Simply hover over the images below for a full list of our FAQ’s. 

I’m a creative person with a lot of invention ideas but no capital to implement them. Can you help?
The Institute gets many of these kinds of enquiries – of people with ideas who want to know what to do next. Unfortunately an idea that has not been researched or worked remains just that – an idea. Only the inventor can make an idea become worth something. No-one else can develop your idea, only you can turn your invention idea into a marketable product. The first thing to do is to make sure your idea is viable so that any actions you take will not be a waste of effort, time and money. The next is to study and follow the invention process. Know too that nobody will offer funding or invest in just ‘an idea’.
What is Intellectual Property? Is it the same as IP?
Intellectual Property (IP for short) is essentially the property of your mind or intellect and it covers and includes patents, design registrations, trademarks, trade secrets and copyright. It is a way of protecting ideas. There are rules that need to be followed (for instance not all ideas can be patented), but any protection can add value to your invention. IP can be bought and sold or licensed or inherited and protection can also improve a product’s chances of getting to market.
I would like to come and discuss my idea with someone, where are you guys?
The Institute is an Association based in Johannesburg and does not offer premises or facilities from which inventors can work. We offer advice and guidance through our member services like the monthly meetings, the newsletter and Pitch it to the Panel™. Material found on this website may also help you to find what you are looking for. Do not discuss your idea in any detail unless you have a Confidentiality Agreement or NDA signed between all parties.
Are you a company? Do you manufacture products or prototypes?
The Institute is a non-profit company but it does not work from specific premises and we are not manufacturers of products or prototypes.
Can you help me to build a prototype of my idea?
Members have access to a number of service providers offering a variety of skills. Through one of our services to members (Pitch it to the Panel™) the III can give advice and guidance which may include introducing you to service providers who can help you, but we do not have in-house facilities. The inventor must build the prototype as required.
I have used Google to do a search – must I also do a patent search?
Yes. Market searches may not show if your idea has been done before. You must be sure. A patent search includes all the applications ever filed and whether or not they were granted. These will affect your patent application, because a product which already has a patent cannot be patented again. You can also contact a patent attorney for further advice.
What funding do you offer to inventors?
We do not offer funding to inventors. The Institute is not a funding agency. Elsewhere on this site there are links and articles on this subject, please read and follow these as they cover and offer a lot of information about available funding.
I need to patent my idea, what must I do?
Research. Some ideas are not patentable. Obtaining a full patent can only be done through a patent attorney and it can be a very expensive exercise. Make sure that you really do need to patent your idea and where you can, begin by getting a provisional patent. Perhaps there are other ways to protect your work (design registration or trademarks for instance).
Do I have to get a patent for my idea?
No you don’t but this will depend on several factors. Some ideas cannot be patented and depending on your invention, you may be able to protect your intellectual property in other ways (design registration or trademarks for instance). You can also contact a patent attorney for further advice.
How much does it cost to get a patent?
Getting a full patent is expensive and the costs will depend on factors such as complexity and territories you chose so there is no direct answer to your question. You can only do this through a specialist patent attorney and professional fees can be high for expert advice and service, typically several thousand Rand.
Can I patent my business idea?
No, unless your business idea involves a new product idea which may be patentable. You also cannot patent a mathematical or scientific discovery, theory or method or the way of playing a game or a book, a piece of music or other artistic work. Do some research and see if you can protect your idea in another way.
What is an NDA? My friend says I must sign one.
An NDA is a Non-Disclosure Agreement and is also known as a Confidentiality Agreement. It is a legally binding document that protects you and prevents the disclosure of shared information with any third party. If you are going to discuss your idea with anyone make sure that you have an NDA signed between all parties. Your friend is right.
What does patent pending mean?
Patent pending describes a provisional patent application that has been filed with the patent office but that is not a full patent. Patent pending gives a person protection of their IP rights for a period of 12 months from date of filing, is an excellent marketing tool, deters copy-cats and allows the inventor time to keep the idea safe while further work is done on the invention.
Must I have a business plan or report for my invention?
If you’re seeking finance for developing your invention at any stage, you’ll need to show financiers and investors why they should invest in you or your product. Funding agencies will only risk their time and money if they’re confident that your idea/invention will be successful and profitable. A well-researched and presented business or viability plan will show that you are serious and that your idea/invention is workable.
Can I apply to the Government for funding by myself?
Yes, you can but you need to be careful to follow the rules, meet the requirements of each fund, complete the application forms in full and have patience – the process can take up to 2 years. In South Africa there are over 70 different programmes and several have special areas of application (youth, gender etc). Accessing grants and loans is a specialist area and it may be wise to seek professional assistance.
Can I patent software?
No, you cannot patent software unless there is a product attached. Each country has its own laws about patenting software so you will need to do your research if you want to patent software anywhere. As always, we advise that you consult a specialist Patent Attorney.
Can I patent my website idea?
No, you cannot patent a website idea.
I saw a product in another country that is not in South Africa. Can I patent it here?
No. When a product is already in the public domain anywhere in the world, it may already be patented or protected in some other way. Once something has been IP-protected it cannot be patented again unless there is a new and novel difference.
Can I just apply for one patent for all countries so that my patent is international?
No you may not. Patents are ‘territorial’ and filed through the PCT – Patent Cooperation Treaty (South Africa is a member). You need to speak to a patent attorney to file for patents in the countries you have identified.
How long does a patent last?
The longest time is 20 years but there are rules and regulations (about annual renewals for instance) that govern patents and you are advised to speak to a patent attorney.
What happens if someone copies me and I have patented my product?
Patents are considered to be the strongest form of Intellectual Property protection even though the system is not perfect. Defending a patent can be an impossibly expensive exercise and you would have to consider if defending your patent is sensible. A patent attorney will assist you. Remember though that patent pending and/or a full patent are very effective ways to protect your products and deter copy-cats.