Securing revenue for your mental innovations

Sumaiya De’Mar (Director of SA Fashion Law), shares her insights on the importance and opportunities in the world of patenting.


Ideas come to all of us in various forms. The ability to generate new ideas is part of our inherent nature. The product of a person’s mental activity is referred to as intellectual property, the value of which should not be underestimated in our digital age.

Not everybody has the inclination to start a business and there is no need to start a business to harness your ideas and monetise them. Your intangible assets can still be used for commercial advantage through licensing, which means selling your ideas to companies and earning a royalty income from that.

How often do we hear of people coming up with brilliant ideas, only to let them disappear and then see someone else implementing or profiting from them. It’s not enough to have the idea without implementing it. To quote Robin Sharma, “Ideation without execution is delusion”. Which means the next time you come up with an excellent idea, execute it!

The next time you come up with an excellent idea, execute it!

To see if you have an idea that is marketable, the first step is to do thorough research. You cannot patent an invention that has already been created anywhere in the world. Start by doing an internet search on Google Patents. This should give you a pretty clear idea of what has already been patented and forms part of the ‘state of the art’.

If your idea has not been patented and is completely unique, it would suit you to draw up a strategy document to market your idea to the right company. Then compile a list of companies that could benefit from your idea. All you need to do is demonstrate a problem and how your idea could provide a solution.  To develop a prototype of the idea, you could get a graphic designer to do a visual representation for you. A proper strategy should outline the benefits of the idea and contain a detailed description of it, pictures relating to it, as well as your contact information.

Most companies would love to pay royalties for a winning idea.

Once you’ve completed this process, you can file a Provisional Patent Application anywhere in the world. According to the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC), “Filing a provisional application is quite inexpensive and gives you 12 months to consider the commercial worth of your invention and to resolve issues such as finance and licensing. Then you can decide whether to continue with patent protection.”

Patents protect new technology, inventions and other forms of innovation. Once all the requirements of a patent application are satisfied and the patent is issued, no other entity can manufacture or market the invention. The final patent lasts two decades and then enters public domain.

If there is competition in other countries, an international patent can also be registered. The search for South African patents can be conducted at the CIPC offices or online. Filing a provisional patent application allows you to put the words ‘patent pending’ on it.

When establishing contact with companies, approach their marketing department, which can even be done via LinkedIn. Inform them that you’ve developed a product which you would like to submit to their company for review and what their process is. They would most likely ask you to email your strategy to them. Most companies would love to pay royalties for a winning idea, so it’s important to identify and communicate with the most suitable companies.

It is not about being an expert. It starts with one simple idea.

When a company sees your idea and they want to license your concept, it’s time to negotiate a deal. It comes down to what you are granting and what they are licensing.  In their mind, they need something tangible. This is where a Licensing Agreement comes in, whereby the terms are agreed upon in writing. Essentially you licence the use of your idea to the company, who then produces and markets the idea. In exchange you get payment in the form of royalties.

An interesting example of a successfully patented idea is the story of Spanx. Spanx is the most popular shapewear worn by women throughout the world, made famous by celebrities who claim to wear them under their red carpet dresses.

Spanx founder Sarah Blakely was working in sales when she came up with a new business idea. She wanted to wear a pair of white trousers, but couldn’t find any undergarment she liked to wear under it, so she created her own solution by cutting the feet off a pair of panty hose.

After realising the brilliance of her innovation, she worked on her new business venture, finalised the design and registered her patent. In 2012 Blakely was featured on the cover of Forbes Magazine as the world’s youngest female self-made billionaire.

As evidenced, it is not about being an expert. It starts with one simple idea that can potentially generate revenue and the execution of that idea in tangible form. Licensing can be used to multiply the effect of the idea, allowing you to benefit lucratively from your mental assets.