The two young brothers and their Irish cousin crack another beer as they watch sun set from atop Table Mountain.

Paddy: Waddya mean the bicycle is the greatest invention ever?
Tommy: Have you got anything better?
Paddy: Yes. It’s the vacuum flask.
James: You gotta be kidding – the greatest invention ever?
Paddy: Well, it keeps hot things hot, right?
Tommy: And so?
Paddy: And it keeps cold things cold, right?
Tommy: Yes.
Paddy: Well, how does it know?1

Although it never invented the vacuum flask, the German company Thermos claimed the design rights, way back in 1904. Actually, almost every household commodity today has been the subject of ‘design’. iPhone, flower vase, coffee cup, chair, clutch pencil, roller suitcase, paper punch, briefcase, diary, wristwatch, shirt, shoes, car key – these are a few things on and around my desk as I write.

Nowadays, the Designs Act 19932 provides for protection to be obtained for various patterns, shapes, configurations or the ornamentation of things. These are all ‘designs’, a form of intellectual property. If the design is new and original, registration can be obtained at the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission.

The Designs Act falls under the authority of the Minister of Trade and Industries, but is administered by CIPC.3

  1. It is a criminal offence to:
    • make or cause a false entry to be made in the designs register;4
    • make or cause any forgery of an entry in the register;5
    • produce or tender as evidence in court any falsified entry in the designs register whilst knowing it is falsified;6
    • make any false statement or representation in order to deceive the Registrar of Designs or any officer of CIPC;7
    • make any false statement or representation in order to influence anything in relation to Designs Act.8
  2. Any person who falsely represents (including just by selling any article, which is marked in such a way) that:
    • there is a registered design in respect of any article;9 or
    • any article is the subject of an application for the registration of a design,10

    shall be guilty of an offence.

  1. Once recounted to me in the truest Dublin accent by my old friend the Irishman Neil McVeigh. 

  2. As amended; the latest amendment was effected by Act 71 of 2008. 

  3. See

  4. Section 47(a). 

  5. Section 47(b). 

  6. Section 47(c). 

  7. Section 48(a). 

  8. Section 48(b). 

  9. Section 49(a). 

  10. Section 49(b).