“Bogus” Colleges and their illegal use of Intellectual Property Rights

“Bogus” Colleges and their illegal use of Intellectual Property Rights

The year is off to an exciting start and next week our matriculants will receive their examination results. During this time, matriculants are also looking for institutions where they can register to further their studies. This is also a time where a lot of “bogus” institutions start mushrooming, luring vulnerable students.

Image Source: https://twitter.com/dbe_kzn/status/1214518545352138752

The Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) has already identified some of these colleges and institutions that claim to offer qualifications without registering with the DHET as is required1. Before registering with any institution, follow this link to see a list of institutions registered with DHET: https://www.dhet.gov.za/. Look out for other red flags when it comes to colleges because these “bogus” institutions have various methods to mislead the public.

The most recent trends range from institutions offering degrees in just 15 days, multiple degrees in one year, and appearing to be based in some other countries1. These “bogus” institutions also use the name and logo of DHET, making it appear as though their courses are accredited and they operate legally. They also try and make themselves appear more official by using the seals, crests and logos of institutions such as DHET, public universities and colleges1. They have similar names to world-renowned universities such as Oxford University, Cambridge University, Harvard University and more.

The bogus institutions know the power of trade marks and exploit this to lure unsuspecting students. A trade mark is a mark used or proposed to be used to distinguish the goods or services of a trader from the same kind of goods or services of another trader in the industry. The Trade Marks Act (the “Act”) defines a mark as “any sign capable of being represented graphically, including a device, name, signature, word, letter, numeral, shape, configuration, pattern, ornamentation, colour or container for goods or any combination of the aforementioned2.

The owner of the mark can stop the unauthorized use of the mark by a third party especially where the mark is identical to or very similar to the registered mark and would likely deceive or cause confusion. Further, the Act states that the rights acquired by registration of a trade mark will be infringed “…if such trade mark is well known in the Republic and the use of the said mark would be likely to take unfair advantage of, or be detrimental to, the distinctive character or the repute of the registered trade mark, notwithstanding the absence of confusion or deception…”2.

Trade marks can be protected forever, provided that they are renewed after every 10 years. A trade mark is how your customers/clients recognise your brand and trust they will always get the same level of quality every time they use your goods and/or services.

Bogus institutions try and copy trade marks of reputable and registered institutions so that their brand resembles these institutions as closely as possible. They attempt to benefit from the good reputation of legitimate and prestigious institutions. This results in students registering with these “bogus” institutions under the impression that the “bogus” institution is associated and/or endorsed by the said legitimate and prestigious institution. In essence, the “bogus” institutions deliberately infringe the rights of reputable institutions with the specific aim of deceiving students.

It is essential for students to check the list of registered institutions on the DHET website before paying any fees for uncredited courses. Good luck to all the first-year students!


  1. https://www.careerhelp.org.za/sites/default/files/bogus_colleges.pdf
  2. https://www.gov.za/sites/default/files/gcis_document/201409/act194of1993.pdf

Written by: Tumelo Mashabela, Managing Director and Registered Patent Attorney

For all your IP, commercial and corporate law services, please contact us on 012 942 8710 / info@tm-attorneys.africa. You can also find us on social media platforms with the handle @TshayaMashabelaAttorneys (@TshayaMashabela on Twitter).

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