The digital era has brought a plethora of conveniences–free long distance phone calls, walking directions from the palm of your hand, and the ability to order anything from clothing to a pet shark–all just a few clicks away. With that increased ease of access has also come unprecedented copycatting. While the old maxim states, “copying is the sincerest form of flattery” it is also horrible to see your idea produced elsewhere, sold by a Chinese counterfeit company, or lifted straight from your work and your wording onto someone else’s page or product.
Fortunately, even in a sea of copycat-fish, your small business can be the yeti crab.
Know Your Rights
Just because trademarks, copyrights and patents can be easy for others to violate, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t still pursue violators when you encounter them. If you have intellectual property, patent-potential goods, or other trademarkable material, do register such things. A little quick research can help you identify the unique qualities of your work that may qualify, and how to go about securing your trademark or copyright. Patenting can have certain costs, but it also offers certain protections, so know your rights.
Then, protect your rights as best you can by:
- Following your own legal procedures and licensing. Owning the rights may be enough of a deterrent for many would-be thieves.
- Widely broadcasting what you do through social media and other channels so that your unique voice or product is broadly known within your industry and social circles.
- Sending a cease-and-desist letter, if you wish, in the event of any identifiable trademark enfringement.
- Ensuring that your business partners or retail partners know your identifying marks.
Being well known for who you are is one of your best protections against theft.
Know Your Worth
Copyright products and services are not desirable to most purchasers, being of inferior quality. Also, businesses of all sizes do successfully sue for copyright/trademark infringement. But for a small business legal recompense may not be a viable option.
Instead, recognize your business worth and stand out for your assets, including:
- Your innovation – Constantly improving your goods or services further ensures the inferiority of copycats.
- Your creativity – While others are busy copying you, you’ve already moved on to your next idea. Be boldly creative and flourishing in the face of a copycat.
- Your quality – What makes loyal consumers by name brand? Often, quality of care. If your products are quality and you make every customer interaction count, they will not gravitate toward those poorly-reviewed knock-off stealers.
- Your integrity – It’s easy to have about the same level of integrity as others, much harder to stand out by having a higher level of integrity. Be known for doing what you say you do, and the positive feedback and word-of-mouth will help you excel when competing in business. People and businesses will want to work with you when they see that you consistently deliver as promised.
Know Who You Are
In the quest for “originality” some small businesses also avoid scoping out the competition, but learning from others will not diminish your strengths. So, without copying others, find out what else is out there. MySpace existed years before Facebook, but Facebook won that battle (without actually copying). Then SnapChat came along, and Facebook has copied them. Business is a constant struggle for identity, innovation, adaptation, consistency and success.
Continue to grow and innovate, be willing to stand out, be willing to improve upon existing ideas, be willing to be your very best, and your business will stand out in an ocean of copycats.