If you have ever had a great idea and then seen it being realised by someone else, you may wonder whether it is coincidence or whether they stole it. Well, when most people have their bright ideas, they go to the patent law office and get a patent, so that no one can steal it. A patent is a way of copyrighting an idea so that people publicly know that you are the originator of it, and these usually come in three sections in South Africa, though there are many more worldwide.
The first is a utility patent which is involved in articles that are written. These are protected by a patent for nearly 20 years, at which point they can be distributed as public information. Design patents are used by those taken by fashion designers and restrict anyone from trying to copy a fabric that has been manufactured, and that the designer wants to use themselves.
This patent usually holds for about 14 years. The next, a plant patent is used for development of plants their reproduction. Spanning about 20 years, these patents stop others from reproducing new plants that have been patented by someone else.
The person applying for a patent has to pay for that patent and in some cases will have to pay maintenance fees to keep it up, such as in the case of design patents and utility patents. This keeps the patent going for those who want to have it in the long term, and prevents others from stealing your ideas after a few years.
Of course, at some point patents do run out and others will copy and profit from your ideas, but when you apply for a patent you slow this down. This means that you can make money from your own idea without having to worry about someone hijacking it. There are many patent wars currently in play, especially amongst the manufacturers of mobile phones and they all know how important it is to patent your products lest someone should try to profit from your idea. This applies on the levels of individuals too.