Intellectual Property Protection

What is Intellectual Property?

Intellectual property (IP) refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions, literary and artistic works, designs; and symbols, names and images used in commerce. IP is protected in law by, for example, patents, copyright and trademarks, which enable people to earn recognition or financial benefit from what they invent or create. By striking the right balance between the interest of innovator and the wider public interest, the IP system aims to foster an environment in which creativity and innovation can flourish. The South African Radio Astronomy Observatory as a government entity is obliged to protect its IP in terms of the IPR Act.

What is the IPR Act?

The IPR Act is a piece of legislation that was promulgated in 2010. It governs all Intellectual Property (IP) emanating from publicly financed research i.e. IP developed using public funds from a government entity. In short, it says such IP must be owned by an institution that received those government funds. In the case of the SKA, the receiving institution is the National Research Foundation.

Inventor responsibilities

  • In terms of the IPR Act inventors MUST disclose IP to the IP Office.
  • The disclosure should be no later than 60 days of conceptualisation.
  • Inventors are required to collaborate with the IP Office throughout the IP protection and subsequent commercialisation activities.


  • Normal research activities.
  • A challenge is encountered that requires a solution.

Invention is conceived

  • This is recorded on the lab book.
  • Materials recorded could include drawings, designs and novel approaches to tackle a specific challenge.
  • The concept is then demonstrated at lab level, through a model or working prototype.

Invention disclosure

  • Invention is disclosed to the IP Office via the invention disclosure form.
  • The invention is assessed for various IP protection requirements to decide on the appropriate form of IP protection.

Protection is sought

  • The decision on appropriate protection form is communicated to patient attorneys and a specification is prepared.
  • Documents are filed with the patent office.

Protection is pending

  • IP protection is not granted immediately after filing by Patent Offices.
  • Whilst protection is pending the scaling up and manufacturing of the product can take place.
  • Licensees/development partners can be sought.

Protection granted

  • Trademarks – for as long as renewals are paid.
  • Designs – Between 10 and 15 years depending on the type of design filed.
  • Patent protection grants you a 20 year monopoly over the invention.
  • Granted patents become public record.
  • Maintenance fees are paid annually.

Protection expiry

  • Once protection has expired the invention moves into the public domain and your rights over it lapse.

More information


The important thing to note in terms of the NRF IP Policy and the IPR Act is that you should never disclose your research findings unless you’re certain that you’re not placing unprotected publicly financed IP in the public domain.

Researchers are not permitted to Open Source code from publicly financed research without seeking approval from the SKA IP Committee and the National Intellectual Property Management Office (NIPMO).

Ask the IP Office to screen your presentation/publication if you’re unsure, prior to public disclosure.

Last Updated on April 25, 2023

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