Patenting an idea is not the only way to protect it – a simple and elegant solution exists that has widespread application but is particularly valuable for inventors and entrepreneurs in the information and technology fields. This is the opinion of Escrow Europe South Africa director, Guy Krige.

Referring to a recent press report about two Gugulethu-based software engineers, Thandile Jwambi and Nicolas Kutumane, accusing Nedbank of stealing their card-blocking invention, Krige warns that the information in the report is not 100% accurate.

“The alleged theft of intellectual property (IP) by large corporates is making news with increasing frequency. Think Woolworths with Ubuntu Baba and Sexy Socks.

“Now the Jwambi/Kutumane claim, which sounds like Version 2.0 of the much-publicised ‘Please Call Me’ saga in which Nkosana Makate is claiming R10-billion from Vodacom for allegedly stealing his IP. Jwambi and Kutumane have approached the High Court and issued a summons against Nedbank for allegedly stealing their invention,” he asserts.

“The journalist reporting on this development quotes an IP lawyer as saying ‘If you come up with a brilliant new invention, but do not register the patent, there is absolutely nothing you can do about it if someone else copies your idea and markets it themselves’.

Krige says he doesn’t agree. “That may be what the corporates and their attorneys would like small developers to believe, but it’s not entirely true.”

According to Krige, escrow provides for the deposit of IP with a neutral and independent trusted third party. With respect to patent, trade secret and copyright preservation, the IP deposited in escrow represents a unique time and date stamped “snapshot” of the product. This could be design details, blueprints or source code for software – even a historical artifact – stored in secured vaults and retrievable whenever it may be necessary to provide indisputable proof of your IP ownership rights.

Krige’s advice is to investigate escrow – place in custody or trust until a specified condition has been fulfilled – as an alternative form of protection should you have a great idea that you’d like to sell to the corporate world. It could help you avoid the heartache of IP theft – and the significant expense of registering a patent.

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