Stellenbosch University
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Strengthening SU’s brand identity through trademark and copyright management
Author: Corporate Communications and Marketing (Hannelie Booyens)
Published: 07/11/2023

​Gert van Deventer provides support in regulating Stellenbosch University's (SU) trademark portfolio and assisting in institutional copyright matters. He completed his BSc (Molecular Biology & Biotechnology), LLB and LLM (Intellectual Property Law) degrees at SU. He is currently enrolled for the LLD-programme, focusing on aspects in trademark law. Van Deventer previously fulfilled duties as a research assistant at the Faculty of Law's Department of Mercantile Law and an administrative officer at the Africa Centre for Scholarship, a division of SU International. We asked Van Deventer to explain how SU's branding journey has been impacted by copyright and trademark issues.

What does your role and responsibilities as SU's Intellectual Property Specialist entail?

As SU's IP Specialist: Copyright & Trade Marks within SU's Innovation and Commercialisation Division,  and more specifically within the Trade Mark Office, I assist in managing SU's trade mark portfolio and providing guidance in relation to institutional copyright matters. These functions are filfulled to ensure SU's compliance with national legislation, institutional policies on intellectual property and trade marks, and SU's brand identity guidelines, to ensure risk mitigation in relation to intellectual property infringement.

In my role, I ensure that internal and external stakeholders apply SU's trade marks and copyrighted content correctly and within the ambit of prescribed requirements and restrictions, and that external parties' trade marks and third-party copyrighted content are used in accordance with prescribed terms and conditions of its owners.

How does SU's Innovation and Commercialisation Division align with your role in managing the University's trademark and copyright portfolio?

As SU's IP and technology transfer office, SU's Innovation and Commercialisation Division is mandated by national legislation and SU Council. Applicable legislation determines a technology transfer office be established at all SA tertiary institutions, with the aim of managing and commercialising IP. In 2018, SU Council exclusively mandated the Innovation and Commercialisation Division to manage and commercialise SU's full IP portfolios, and to do so in line with SU's policies on intellectual property and trade marks, and to manage SU's fifth income stream. As SU's IP Specialist: Copyright and Trade Marks, my role aligns with the the Innovation and Commercialisation Division's mandate.

Could you elaborate on the importance of trade mark and copyright matters within a university's branding strategy, especially considering SU's rebranding journey of the past few years?

Together with SU's brand refresh process, SU's policy on trade marks was revised in 2022 and implemented from 1 January 2023. To be read with SU's updated brand manual, this policy document also introduced a uniform brand architecture and highlights which marks within this architecture are governed by these documents.

Both SU's updated policy on trade marks and brand manual refer to the roles of the respective custodians, the Trade Mark Office and SU's Corporate Communication and Marketing Division, for using SU's trade marks. The Trade Mark Office is responsible for granting approval for using SU's trade marks, while SU's Corporate Communication and Marketing Divison has responsibility to provide input on the visual application for using SU's trade marks (or, approval of the visual elements to the application of artwork in the use of SU's trade marks).    

Regarding SU's rebranding process, what were some of the key challenges and opportunities you encountered in terms of intellectual property, trade marks, and copyrights?

For specifically the revision of SU's policy on trade marks, that happenend together with the brand refresh process, our office saw SU staff not comprehending the institutional need to have policy and brand identity guidelines, and resisting to adhere to these provisions. It is important to note that, with these documents, we attempt to mitigate risks for potential trade mark infringement (for using SU's trade marks, but also in relation to the use of external stakeholders' marks), and also protect the great brand value that is attached to SU's trade mark portfolio. At the end, boosting awareness and cultivating a better understanding of IP and our offices' functions are critical for buy-in from SU environments.

What are the most common mistakes that you've seen in terms of intellectual property and trade marks in the rebranding process?

When using SU's trade marks with external parties' marks, it is important that there must be an association (by way of an agreement or other measure) between parties, and their involvement must be shown. Our office has seen many instances where marks from different parties are used together, while there is no affiliation of any, and where their involvement in an initiative is not described.

Also, content (either trade marks, or copyrighted content) that is freely available on the internet, does not mean that is not subject to terms and conditions, and you will still need to get permission to use it, and check whether any requirements or restrictions apply for using it.

Could you share insights into the collaborative approach taken during the rebranding process, particularly in terms of ensuring trade mark and copyright compliance across different university departments and stakeholders at SU?

For specifically the revision of SU's policy on trade marks, our office followed an extensive consultation and approval process for implementation, and all SU environments were allowed the opportunity to give input.

During the brand refresh process and the revision of SU's policy on trade marks, our office also worked closely with SU's Corporate Communication and Marketing to ensure that both these documents align, and that each party's roles are clearly defined in relation to the approval process for using SU's trade marks.

Other environments that we work closely with includes, the Matie Shop (as SU's official merchandise store, and for the supply of branded items that show SU's trade marks), SU's Legal Services (for the review of commercial agreement to which SU is party to, and to ensure that ownership and use of IP (including the use of SU's trade marks) are sufficiently addressed), SU's group of companies (for trade mark registrations and enforcement in relation to spinout companies' goods and services), external legal representation (for assistance in the proper management of SU's trade mark portfolio) and commercial partners (for which licensing agreements have been concluded, and to commercialise on SU's trade marks).

Please share some practical tips for staff who regularly work with SU branding and trade marks.

  • Ensure that you have permission to use external stakeholders' trademarks, and that you enquire about any requirements or restrictions that are applicable for using their marks, so that SU can ensure compliance from our side.
  • Address trademark use in agreements, where applicable and so that parties to an agreement are aware of what is required from each for using each other's trademarks.
  • Reach out to the Trademark Office ( when you plan to use external parties' marks in your marketing endeavours, together with SU's trademarks.