[J-TAO Report] Have you got a highly-successful domestic brand or product you’re worried could be stolen by overseas businesses and used to turn a profit without your consent? Known as the copycat problem, and where there is an opportunity to make money, there are copycats so this unfortunate act of intellectual thievery is nothing new. It can be frustrating, seeing people profiting from your hard work, using your brand power to peddle their products or services; however, there are steps you can take to protect what is rightfully yours.
In this article, we present a few actions you can take to protect your brand and its IP. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Remember you’ve worked tirelessly creating your business from the ground up and now it’s a brand consumers respect.
Identify Risk Markets
The first step is to identify the markets where your brand is at most risk of being stolen. To afford your product protection, you need to take action within each specific market to secure it. But with so many markets around the world, it would be challenging to protect your brand in every single one of them — not to mention cost-prohibitive. Instead, it’s best to focus on the danger zones — the markets with similar consumer bases or interest in your type of brand. A quick example would be the US and the UK. These markets have very similar trends and interests, so it’s always a good move to protect your rights in both.
Solidify Your Position with a Local Business
Axe, the famed brand of male grooming products, encountered a problem when they attempted to enter the UK market. The business name Axe was taken, so they pivoted, and now Axe is known as Lynx in the UK, but this was not an ideal situation to be in. The best way to protect your brand assets overseas is to start a business in that country. Owning a company registered within a country gives you exclusive access to the brand name. Nobody else can start a company using your name as company names must be unique.
Apply for Trademarks
Why do you need a trademark if you own the company name? For two reasons.
The first is that a trademark can cover more than a company name. So for example, if you were called The Fashion Company, trademarking would help you secure your rights against somebody trying to start a business called something similar, like The Fashion Co. Having ownership of your business name does not do this. So why not just register a trademark and not bother with registering the local business? Because trademarks have to be approved, and owning the company helps support your arguments for controlling the trademark.
The second reason for applying trademarks is you can protect unique assets. For example, J.K Rowling owns the rights to famous Harry Potter names so people can’t use them in their own business. If our fake brand, The Fashion Company, has a unique product, such as a shoe that says the words “We Are Human” we could trademark this particular product to stop others selling what is essentially our intellectual property.
Be Careful of the Language in Your Trademark
Trademark applications are highly effective at securing your brand, but rival companies will always be looking at ways of getting around your legal rights. An excellent way to achieve success is to develop trademarks that are very obviously unique. For example, Starbucks is a world-renowned coffee brand, but its trademark has nothing to do with coffee. The result is that if somebody tries to do something similar by selling coffee under a brand like Stardollars, it’s very obviously infringement. If instead Starbucks were called Coffeebucks, and somebody tried to sell products under Coffeedollars, it would be much harder to prove infringement because the trademark is so generic. The business could easily argue you can’t trademark something so universal as coffee.
Enforce Your Branding Rights
Nobody is going to police your branding for you. If people start selling rip-off products under a similar name, the only way they’re going to stop is if you take action. It’s one of the most frustrating factors in brand ownership, but you must do it. Keep an eye on the market and watch for copycats. Spot a problem? Take action immediately. The longer you wait to act, the more difficult it can be to win a legal case.