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How often do you think about the infringement of another creator’s Intellectual Property (IP)? And what is Intellectual Property law? 

Today’s consistent technological innovations make it easy for anyone to copy and paste other people’s ideas. If you are a creator from any industry without a grasp of IP law, you might find yourself entangled in a lawsuit; if you’re not careful. 

But for now, let your guard down, we’ve got the basis of all that you need to know in this A Woman Belongs In Intellectual Property Law With Rachel Sikwane.

Rachel Sikwane is a commercial lawyer specialising in Intellectual Property (IP) law and the founder of RNMS Inc. She has over fifteen years of experience in providing clients with strategic and legal IP advice on commercial and transactional matters, as well as on contentious IP matters. Sikwane was recently selected by her peers for inclusion in the 2022 Edition of The Best Lawyers in South Africa for IP Law. Rachel is also a writer and has had numerous published articles on IP matters. 

In this A Woman Belongs conversation, Sikwane helps us understand what intellectual property law is and we also get to know who Rachel Sikwane is, what kind of hurdles she faced, and her journey to becoming an exceptional and respected lawyer.

Here’s our delightful conversation, beginning with one of our favourite things at AoS – Affirmations!… 

Q. If you were to describe yourself in five sentences starting with ‘’I am,’’ what would you say? 

I am a natural-born leader and a tenacious woman.

I am a daughter of the good and sovereign God.

I am a wife to a gracious husband and a mother to two kind and funny children.

I am meticulous and organised; I do not like clutter.

I am optimistic.

Q. What are your fondest memories from childhood?

Playing “touch you’re it” with my cousins while our parents said their goodbyes – which always took forever! Recently, we played again as adults – it was hilarious!

Q. How and when did you discover your love for Law?

I remember trying to figure out what I could study that encompassed my love for logic and writing/words. I decided to try law. But I only really fell in love with it in my third year – when it became more “practical.”

Q. What does a typical busy workday look like for you?

No one busy workday is the same as the last. But, typically, such a day will include client meetings, reading and responding to client emails, drafting letters or agreements or both, filing new trademark applications and preparing proposals for new work.

Q. We often hear about the demanding law courses in university and the transitional challenges into the workplace during articles. What was your varsity experience like and how was it adapting to the workplace thereafter?

The practice of law is definitely not the same as the study of law. I found the transition easier than most, mainly because I was interested in the field of law that I practised in while serving articles; I had a great mentor and principles, and I was not afraid to work smart (not hard, but smart). Unfortunately, the transitional challenges you hear about are often exacerbated by, amongst other things, any one of those factors missing.   

Q. Can you share with us what led you to specialise in Intellectual Property law?

I always say that I did not choose IP law, but rather that it chose me. I did not know IP law existed until I attended a winter vacation program at an IP law firm. That is where I was first introduced to the speciality, and I have loved it ever since.

Q. Speak to us about your career’s trajectory, what values carried you to the various positions of influence that you’ve served in?

To become an attorney, one is required to pass what is known as a fit and proper test. This test determines your honesty, integrity, and reputation – and whether you are fit and proper to be admitted to the profession. I would say that those three values have been values that I have held onto during my career – remaining honest and trustworthy; being a person of integrity, and guarding my reputation (because that is all you have in this profession).

Q. What hurdles are Black women facing within the law fraternity and how are you using your voice to alleviate some of these challenges? 

The hurdles we face are too many to name – so I won’t. But I like the second half of your question. I honestly believe that “representation matters”. I did not have many examples of women like me when I was a young law graduate. And so, I do my best to “put myself out there” and publicise my work so that, amongst other things, younger female lawyers today can see that what I am doing can be done. Sometimes they reach out for guidance and advice; other times I like to think that they are just noticing me and being instilled with courage – and that’s more than enough.  

Q. Break down what Intellectual Property (IP) law is for us, and briefly, the four main types of IP protection in the South African context?

IP laws incentivise and reward innovation by providing IP creators with an opportunity and the time to exclusively exploit their creations. There are four main types of IP rights: 

Patents protect new inventions and probably the most well-known South African patented product is the Kreepy Krauly. 

Designs protect those new design features of a product that are either appealing to the eye or functional. An example of a product that can be protected by way of a design registration would be anyone, or most, of Carrol Boyes’ products. 

Trademarks are words, slogans, numbers, etc. used to distinguish the goods and services of traders. This is probably the most common form of IP and includes trademarks such as FOSCHINI, 46664 and the slogan MOVING FORWARD (from Standard Bank). 

Copyright protects original works from being copied and covers works such as books, music, art, computer programs and even broadcasts. An example includes the music and lyrics of Happy Birthday by Samkelo Mdolomba aka Samthing Soweto.

Q. How does one enforce their IP rights should they be violated?

As a first step, I suggest that you consult a lawyer. IP law is a specialised field of law, and you should ensure that you are well-advised before taking steps to enforce your rights. An IP lawyer will advise you whether your IP rights are valid, whether they are enforceable and whether any other course of action is available to you (other than litigation).

Q. Are our justice systems advanced enough to ensure that there is fairness in IP rights claims?

The world is ever-changing and as it changes, so too does the field of IP. Consider, for example, how two decades ago, listening to music on CDs was commonplace and now almost all music is streamed. Even the advent of artificial intelligence has an impact on the field of IP. Our existing IP laws, for some part, have been able to be applied to these new technologies, however, there is room for improvement. Unfortunately, the drafting and passing of legislation is not a quick process.

Q. What do you do when you’re relaxed and connecting with ‘self’?

Something involving music – either listening to it; singing and dancing to it (especially with my kids); or playing it (on the piano).

Q. What book or author has left an indelible mark on your life?

Oh my goodness! Hands down, the Bible!

Q. What was the last book you read or are currently reading? 

There are two that are open on my Kindle at the moment – The Complete Guide To Grace by J Lefler; and The Great Catapult by Z Vink.

Remember to always ensure that your Intellectual Property rights are protected. Do the necessary research. And as Rachel said, start by consulting a lawyer should you suspect that your IP rights are being violated.