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Tuesday, 02 July 2019 10:21

The Difference between Copyright and Patents

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The Difference between Copyright and Patents

If you’re unsure as to what the difference between copyright and patents, you may need to complete further research in order to understand how your work is, or should be, governed correctly. Using this guide on the difference between copyright and patents, as well as the advice from experienced IP lawyers in South Africa, you can determine how best to protect your work.

Protecting your work through best-practice governance will ensure that you remain the original owner of your expression, or that others are excluded from making, using or commercialising your idea.


What do copyrights protect? Copyrights protect your expression of ideas, this is generally considered to be artistic works which include:

  • Literary works
  • Musical works
  • Artistic works
  • Cinematograph films, and more.

Copyright protects the physical/digital expression of ideas that are formed using words, tools, instruments, and more; copyright therefore does not protect the process in which the particular work was created, nor the use of the information within.

Does copyright need to be registered? Copyright exists automatically upon creation of the work if it is in the class of work recognised by the Copyright Act. Your work therefore does not have to be registered for copyright, unless it is a film whereby a copyright lawyer can help you register.


What is a patent? A patent provides inventors with the right to exclude others from making, using, or commercialising the patented invention for the allocated term.

What does a patent protect? Patents protect inventions, such as new processes, equations or machines. A patent is different from copyright as it does not just protect the expression of ideas, but also the actual idea and/or process. A patent will therefore give the holder the opportunity to challenge others who may use their invention.

How to register a patent? Specialised IP lawyers in South Africa can assist you with the registration process when applying for a patent. This will ensure a streamlined and effective application procedure which will protect your idea for a set term.

The Difference?

A simple example which will help you understand the difference between copyright and patents: A book which contains methods of creating crafts. The book will be protected by copyright and therefore cannot be reproduced, the methods can still be used. However, if the methods are patented, people would be unable to use the methods unless given authorisation.

Should you need a consultation to further explain the difference between copyright and patents in order to ensure that you protect your work correctly, reach out to expert IP lawyers in South Africa.


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