Before you Apply
If you have developed a new product or process, the issue of patenting should be considered as an integral part of your overall business strategy together with factors such as profit potential, finance, production and marketing.

The patent system is structured to enable you to make this decision before the major costs of patenting are encountered.

For example, filing a provisional application is quite inexpensive and it gives you 12 months to consider the commercial worth of your invention and to resolve issues such as finance and licensing. You will then be in a better position to decide if further effort in pursuing patent protection is worthwhile.

Similarly, you can file an international application in terms of the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), which allows you to defer the costs of obtaining patents overseas, while you decide which foreign markets should be protected.

Alternatives for Protection
Protection that you should consider as an alternative or in addition to patents include:

  • Trade Marks for a word or symbol that distinguishes your product or service;
  • Designs for features of your innovation having eye appeal; or
  • Plant Breeder's Rights for plant cultivars.

What if I decide not to patent?
Having considered all the issues you may decide that patenting is not the best option for you. Perhaps you prefer to keep your invention as a trade secret, for example. In that case you would have to assess the risk of someone obtaining your invention through industrial espionage or, if your invention is a product, by reverse engineering.

You also need to consider the consequences of someone else independently developing the same invention.

Another alternative is to openly use and publish details about your innovation. This will prevent someone else obtaining a patent for the same thing, but could also allow your competitors to freely use your invention for their own benefit.