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History of DM Kisch

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Daniel Montague Kisch

2009 marked the 135th anniversary of DM Kisch and to commemorate this milestone event, a brief overview of the remarkable history of the company and its founder is set out below. The history of the firm and the personal history of the founding family are so inextricably intertwined that it is not possible to present either in isolation, and therefore the presentation will focus on both the firm and the founder as they interacted over the years.

Introduction: Daniel Montaque Kisch the founder of DM Kisch Inc.

DM Kisch is the oldest Intellectual Property firm in South Africa specialising in patents, trademarks, copyright and designs. The firm's history can be traced back to 1874, the year when a business trading under the name DM Kisch was established, and as indicated above, one aspect which really captures the imagination is the biography of its founder, Daniel Montague Kisch. Although he was plagued by ill health from an early age, his whole life bears testimony to his spirit of enterprise, his indefatigable enthusiasm and perseverance.

The family Kisch: Background

Daniel Montague Kisch was born on 7 June 1840 in Wisbeck, St. Peter's, Cambridgeshire, England and received his schooling in Norwich. The family Kisch was an old established English-Jewish family, who had earlier lived in Prague for many centuries. At the end of the eighteenth century, a member of the family left for the Netherlands and subsequently two of his sons settled in England. Daniel M. Kisch's father was one of these sons.

Daniel Montague Kisch: Youth

In 1858, as a result of Daniel's poor health, his doctor ordered him to set sail for Australia. During the long, arduous voyage he qualified as a ship's mate. On the way the ship called at Durban and when Daniel Kisch arrived in Australia and did not like what he saw, he sailed back to Durban and went on to settle in Cape Town. At the beginning of the 1860s, he moved to Natal to manage the Reunion and Umzinto sugar-cane plantations which belonged to his cousin, Daniel de Pass. In the same year, he undertook an extensive hunting and trading expedition into the then unknown interior of South-West Africa (now Namibia). He recorded the day-to-day and often life-threatening experiences during this trip in his diary. In 1868, he visited England where he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

Daniel M Kisch and Paramount Chief Lobengula

Daniel Kisch photographed at the Kraal of King Lobengula, King of the Matabele

The five years prior to his marriage were adventurous times indeed. In 1867 it became known that gold had been discovered at Tati, along the Umfuli River and elsewhere in Mashonaland (the present Zimbabwe). Paramount Chief Lobengula, King of the Matabele and son of Mzilikazi, controlled the migration of whites into the domain very strictly and apart from missionaries and a few resident traders, all visitors had to pay a high levy to be allowed access to Mashonaland. From 1868 to 1873, Daniel prospected on the Tati gold-fields, explored the area and hunted in Matebeleland (often in the company of Thomas Baines, who was a famous artist and explorer, and F.C. Selous, after whom the Rhodesian Selous Scouts special forces would later be named). During this time Daniel befriended Lobengula and acted as his advisor. Daniel once again meticulously recorded his experiences during this period in his diaries. Between 1869 and 1872 Thomas Baines undertook two journeys to Matebeleland at the same time that Daniel Kisch found himself in the area. During this time, Baines painted Daniel entertaining Lobengula in his tent. Regrettably, this painting, entitled "Kisch's Dinner Party to Lobengula" was lost.

The 1870s: Marriage and Life in Pretoria

In 1873 he again visited England and there married Rebecca Spier, a Londoner. Daniel and his young wife travelled by Union Line Steamer to South Africa and during the voyage met and befriended Cecil John Rhodes, the well-known British-born South African politician and empire-builder, who would have the territories of Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) named after him. Those were indeed still pioneering years. In the period following the Great Trek, more precisely between 1854 and 1872, Southern Africa comprised two British colonies along the coast (the Cape Colony and Natal), as well as two Boer republics in the interior (the Orange Free State and the South African Republic (ZAR) in the Transvaal). The whole area was hit by an economic depression during the 1850s and 1860s. The situation was exacerbated by a severe drought, which crippled agriculture and stock-farming in the land. The economy, however, improved dramatically with the discovery of the first diamond in the Orange Free State in 1867. Thousands of prospectors and fortune-hunters poured into Southern Africa from all over the world. During this turbulent period Thomas Francois Burgers became President of the ZAR (1872). Burgers was a close personal friend of Daniel and Rebecca Kisch.

Daniel and Rebecca Kisch settled in Pretoria in 1874. Pretoria was founded in 1855 and was, relatively speaking, still a young, undeveloped village. Daniel Kisch, however, immediately realised the financial potential of the town and established a business known as Kisch and Harsant. Harsant left the business in 1876 and returned to England. The business prospered and diversified, extending into real estate and accounting. The year 1875 proved to be a busy and eventful year in the life of Daniel Kisch. In February 1875 Kisch and Harsant announced that on Thursday, 1 April, they would be moving to new premises in the Alexandra Building on Church Square, Pretoria. On 8 March 1875 Daniel was sworn in as Justice of the Peace by P.J. Joubert (acting State President of the ZAR) and H. Stiemens (acting Secretary of State). Daniel's only son, Charles Herbert Moses, was born in Pretoria in the same year (1875). Later he would follow in his father's footsteps and take over the management of the firm.

In 1877 Daniel Kisch also served on the Committee of The Transvaal Club and later became a founder member of the Pretoria Club. During the first British Occupation of the Transvaal (1877-1881) he was appointed as Auditor-General by the Government of the ZAR.

The 1880s: Years of Prosperity

Mrs. Rebecca Kisch spent the duration of the First Anglo-Boer War (1880-1881) in England, accompanied by their two children, Charles Herbert Moses and Edith Hannah. The war came to an end with the Boer victory at the Battle of Amajuba on 27 February 1881 and on 9 May 1883 Stefanus Johannes Paulus (Paul) Kruger was inaugurated as first State President of the restored ZAR. In 1888, Daniel Kisch sent a letter to the Secretary of State in which he applied for the position of "Ingenieur van Electrische Werken en Verlichting" (Engineer of Electrical Works and Lighting) of the ZAR. He had already undertaken engineering projects in Pretoria during the 1870s and by now was the owner of Pretoria Engineering Works.

The 1890s: Continued expansion of business interests

D M Kisch also acted as agent for the "Union Stoomschip Maatschappij" (Union Steamship Company), which later merged with the Castle Line Company to form the Union Castle Company. 
The first meeting held for purposes of establishing a Chamber of Commerce in the ZAR took place in August 1891. As could be expected, Kisch acted as secretary at this meeting, which took place in the President Hotel. 
Daniel Kisch was active in the field of religion too. He played a leading role in the Jewish community. The first Jewish religious services in Pretoria were held in his home, where a number of Jewish weddings were also solemnised. In 1892 he petitioned the State President of the ZAR on behalf of the Jewish congregation, and obtained permission to purchase stand 735 in Minnaar Street, Pretoria, for an amount of 750 pounds, with the purpose of erecting a synagogue.

Patent and trademark interests

Octrooi brief - Letters patent filed by D M Kisch in 1895.

The firm DM Kisch distinguished itself in particular as patent and trade mark agents and filed its first patent applications in 1887 under Act 6 of 1887, "De Octrooi Wet" (The Patents Act). This Act was replaced by Act 12 of 1897 and in the Gazette wherein Act 12 was promulgated, DM Kisch & Co. published an advertisement referring to itself as "South African Patent & Trade Mark Agents" with offices in both Pretoria and Johannesburg. By that time, the firm had already registered international patents and trademarks. Some notable patents were registered by the firm, including one filed on behalf of Dr. Werner von Siemens in 1888, one on behalf of Thomas Alva Edison and one for Marconi, entitled: "Improvements in applications for wireless telegraphy", in 1900. D M Kisch also acted in the first legal case in South Africa involving a patent when he acted on behalf of Dr Von Siemens in respect of an invention relating to the separation of gold by means of electricity. Since then, the firm has filed more than one third of all patents granted in South Africa, and has secured patent and trade mark rights for some of the most important inventions and brands of the century.

Charles Herbert Kisch. Son of Daniel Kisch.

Death of Daniel M Kisch

In 1894 Daniel's son, Charles Herbert Moses, joined his father's firm and two years later, the head office of the firm moved to Johannesburg. Daniel's health deteriorated increasingly and he died on 11 December 1898 at the age of 58 on board the steamer Umhloti en route to Europe for medical treatment. His businesses in Johannesburg and Pretoria were left to his son, Charles.

C H M Kisch in his father's footsteps

Approximately a year after the death of Daniel Kisch, the Second Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) broke out. During the war, Charles Kisch refused to take up arms against Britain and took an oath of neutrality. After the war he closed the firm's office in Pretoria and henceforth the firm concentrated exclusively on Intellectual Property from its office in the Victoria Building, Johannesburg. Between 1903 and 1912, W.E. John and A.L. Spoor joined the firm. Spoor took over the management of the firm between 1914 and 1918, while Charles took an active part in the First World War. 
In 1922 Spoor resigned and established his own firm. In 1923, John also resigned to do the same. H.R. Mushlian, who came from England, then joined the firm's ranks, but returned to England in 1928. In the same year, R.W. Blackstock, a qualified British patent agent from Fitzpatrick & Co. entered the firm's employ.

Grandson continues family business

At the age of 35, on 5 April 1911, Charles married 27-year old Gwendolyn McDonald Hunter in London, England. They had three children, namely Kenneth Neil (Peter) Kisch, Ursula Mary Weiss (married to Oscar Weiss), and Brian Michael Kisch.

Kenneth Neil (Peter) Kisch, the grandson of Daniel Kisch.

Peter Kisch graduated in Mechanical Engineering from London University in 1933. During his university days, he represented Great Britain in fencing at the Olympic Games. After completing his degree, Peter returned to South Africa and joined the firm. He qualified as a patent agent two years later and was elected as partner in 1938. Immediately at the outbreak of World War II, Peter joined the Royal Air Force and from 1939 until 1945 served with the RAF as a pilot, attaining the rank of squadron leader. During Peter's absence, C.P. (Chris) van der Walt joined the firm as draughtsman. Chris was the first Afrikaans-speaking person to qualify as a patent agent and became a partner in the firm in 1950. In 1945, after returning from the war, Peter assumed full control of the firm. Charles Kisch passed away on 5 June 1947 at the age of 72 years and Peter remained the senior partner of the firm until his retirement in 1971. 

Blackstock and Chris van der Walt were forced to tender their resignations in 1946 and 1957 respectively as a result of ill health. The firm was at the time already acting for many major clients both locally and internationally. On 24 June 1933, DM Kisch & Co was appointed Patent Consultant to the Union Steel Corporation Limited, the South African Iron and Steel Industrial Corporation (ISCOR), and Stewards & Lloyds Limited. The old pictorial registers in the DM Kisch archives bristle with trademark registrations of illustrious companies, including Dunlop, Royal Baking Powder, Abram Lyle, Eno's, White Horse and Levi Strauss, some dating back to the previous century.

Further Developments

During 1954, Dux Truter joined the firm to train as a patent agent and shortly afterwards, in the same year, Dennis Greyvensteyn joined to take control of the Trade Marks Department. Some years later, A.C. (Adrian) Couzyn also joined the firm to train as a patent agent and in 1960, C.G. (Peter) Rattray joined as a partner. He was a qualified patent agent and attorney. 
A few years later Dennis Greyvensteyn, Dux Truter and Adrian Couzyn became partners. In 1971 Peter Kisch retired from the firm, thus ending the Kisch family's control of the firm, which had spanned almost 97 years. Peter Kisch was a member of the South African team dealing with the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) and of the team concerned with the revision of the Paris Convention in 1976. Peter was also President of the Rand Club and of the South African Institute of Intellectual Property Law. 

Peter Rattray, who took over from Peter Kisch as senior partner of the firm on the latter's retirement, stayed on in that position until his retirement from active practice in 1984. Dennis Greyvenstein retired from the firm in 1994. Dux Truter retired at age 75 after a period of 50 years with the firm. 
In 1968, a branch of the firm was reopened in Pretoria by Johan Lamprecht, who still acts as consultant to the firm. In 1976 DM Kisch & Co., patent and trademark agents, became a partnership of attorneys. In 1979 the partnership became incorporated and changed its name to DM Kisch Inc, with Peter Rattray becoming the first Chairman of the Board. On his retirement, he was succeeded by Dux Truter. When he stepped down as Chairman in 1994, his place was taken by Johan Lamprecht, who had joined the firm in 1968, and who retired in 1999. Reinhard le Roux was then appointed as chairman, a position he held until his retirement in 2008. Derek Momberg is at present the chairman of the board. 

When Dux Truter joined the firm, there were only about fifteen people in the firm. Today it has almost 20 directors and a staff of more than 100, with the head office located in Sandton, Johannesburg. The past twenty five years have seen DM Kisch grow from a relatively small firm to a dynamic company specialising in Intellectual Property. DM Kisch is still committed to a tradition which it has established over the past 134 years, namely unwavering commitment to service excellence to its clients through expertise and leadership in the field of intellectual property.

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