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South Africa

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

The South African legal system protects and facilitates the acquisition and disposition of all property rights (e.g., land, buildings, and mortgages).  Deeds must be registered at the Deeds Office. Banks usually register mortgages as security when providing finance for the purchase of property.

South Africa ranks 106th of 190 countries in registering property according to the 2019 World Bank Doing Business report.

Intellectual Property Rights

South Africa has a strong legal structure and enforcement of intellectual property rights through civil and criminal procedures.  Criminal procedures are generally lengthy, so the customary route is through civil enforcement.  There are concerns about counterfeit consumer goods, illegal commercial photocopying, and software piracy.

Owners of patents and trademarks may license them locally, but when a patent license entails the payment of royalties to a non-resident licensor, the Department of Trade and Industry (the dti) must approve the royalty agreement.  Patents are granted for twenty years – usually with no option to renew. Trademarks are valid for an initial period of ten years, renewable for ten-year periods. The holder of a patent or trademark must pay an annual fee to preserve ownership rights.  All agreements relating to payment for the right to use know-how, patents, trademarks, copyrights, or other similar property are subject to approval by exchange control authorities in the SARB. A royalty of up to four percent is the standard approval for consumer goods, and up to six percent for intermediate and finished capital goods.

Literary, musical, and artistic works, as well as cinematographic films and sound recordings are eligible for copyright under the Copyright Act of 1978.  New designs may be registered under the Designs Act of 1967, which grants copyrights for five years. The Counterfeit Goods Act of 1997 provides additional protection to owners of trademarks, copyrights, and certain marks under the Merchandise Marks Act of 1941.  The Intellectual Property Laws Amendment Act of 1997 amended the Merchandise Marks Act of 1941, the Performers’ Protection Act of 1967, the Patents Act of 1978, the Copyright Act of 1978, the Trademarks Act of 1993, and the Designs Act of 1993 to bring South African intellectual property legislation fully into line with the WTO’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement (TRIPS).  Further Amendments to the Patents Act of 1978 also brought South Africa into line with TRIPS, to which South Africa became a party in 1999, and implemented the Patent Cooperation Treaty. The private sector and law enforcement cooperate extensively to stop the flow of counterfeit goods into the marketplace, and the private sector believes that South Africa has made significant progress in this regard since 2001.   Statistics on seizures are not available.

In an effort to modernize outdated copyright law to incorporate “digital age” advances, the dti introduced the latest draft of the Copyright Amendment Bill in May 2017.  The South African Parliament and the National Council of Provinces approved the Copyright Amendment Bill in March 2019 and sent the bill to the president for signature. As of mid-May 2019, the bill had not been signed.  Among the issues of concern to some private sector stakeholders is the introduction of the U.S. model of “fair use” for copyright exemptions without prescribing industry-specific circumstances where fair use will apply, creating uncertainty about copyrights enforcement.  Other concerns that stakeholders have include a clause which allows the Minister of Trade and Industry to set royalty rates for visual artistic works and impose compulsory contractual terms. The bill also limits the assignment of copyright to 25 years before it reverts back to the author.

The Performers’ Protection Amendment Bill seeks to address issues relating to the payment of royalties to performers; safeguarding the rights of contracting parties; and promotes performers’ moral and economic rights for performances in fixations (recordings).  Similar to the Copyright Amendment Bill, this bill gives the Minister of Trade and Industry authority to determine equitable remuneration for a performer and copyright owner for the direct or indirect use of a work. It also suggests that any agreement between the copyright owner and performer will only last for a period of 25 years and does not determine what happens after 25 years.  The bill also does not stipulate how it will address works with multiple performers, particularly how to resolve potential problems of hold-outs when contracts are renegotiated that could hinder the further exploitation of a work.

The dti released the final Intellectual Property Policy of the Republic of South Africa Phase 1  in June, 2018, that informs the government’s approach to intellectual property and existing laws.  Phase I focuses on the health space, particularly pharmaceuticals. The South African Government, led by the dti, held multiple rounds of public consultations since its introduction and the 2016 release of the IP Consultative Framework.

Among other things, the IP policy framework calls for South Africa to carry out substantive search and examination (SSE) on patent applications and to introduce a pre- and post-grant opposition system.  The dti repeatedly stressed its goal of creating the domestic capacity to understand and review patents, without having to rely on other countries’ examinations. U.S. companies working in South Africa have been generally supportive of the government’s goal; they are concerned, however, that the relatively low number of examiners currently on staff (20) to handle the proposed SSE process and the introduction of a pre-grant opposition system in South Africa could lead to significant delays of products to market.  The South African Government is working with international partners (including USPTO and the European Union) to provide accelerated training of their patent reviewers while also recruiting new staff.

The new IP policy framework also raises concerns around the threat of separate patentability criteria for medicines and a more liberalized compulsory licensing regime.  Stakeholders are calling for more concrete assurances that the use of compulsory licensing provisions will be as a last resort and applied in a manner consistent with WTO rules.  Industry sources report they are not aware of a single case of South Africa issuing a compulsory license.

South Africa is currently in the process of implementing the Madrid Protocol.  CIPC has completed drafting legislative amendments after consultations with stakeholders and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) on the implementation process in South Africa.  WIPO has conducted a number of missions to South Africa on this matter, the latest of which was in February 2018. South Africa has also engaged with national IP offices with similar trade mark legislation, such as New Zealand.

Resources for Rights Holders

Economic Officer covering IP issues:

Juan Manuel Cammarano
Trade and Investment Officer
+27(0)12 431-4343
CammaranoJM@State.gov

For additional information about South Africa’s treaty obligations and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/  .  A list of attorneys for various South African districts can be found on the U.S. Mission Citizen Services page: https://za.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/local-resources/attorneys/

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