Although legal, brand protection and anti-counterfeiting professionals differ greatly in their opinions and approaches, one commonly agreed principle is that start-up businesses need intellectual property registrations. Whether you require trademarks, patents or copyright to protect yourself and your profits against intellectual property theft, getting those legally enforceable rights is a must.
Yet, particularly for start-ups, young businesses and those looking to expand internationally, the biggest problem with protecting your brand may not be what trademarks you have, or even how big your counterfeiting problem is…
Controversial though it may be, the biggest problem for you may be…you!
We all know that the criminals who steal other people’s hard work are the true culprits here, but we also know that they exist and so taking steps to combat them before they become a problem should be high on the agenda of every new business. After all, as the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. And if there’s one thing you can rely on in business it’s that if you’re successful you’ll be copied.
So, just as every small business needs to have a strategy for how it’s going to grow, every brand which designs, registers and markets any intellectual property should consider brand protection from a long-term perspective rather than as an afterthought.
A fruity example
John and June Jarvis decide to start their own company, a revolutionary new fruit which crosses a banana with an apple. Predictably, they decide to call it a “Banapple”. They take some advice and because they only have one product, and they’ve only planned to manufacture, market and trade in the UK, this is where they register a single trademark for their name. They’re happy with this because it saves them time and money in the short term.
Before too long, John and June’s hard work pays off and the Banapple is a hit! Not only does everybody want one but other manufacturers are starting to wonder why they can’t get in on the action too. The market is limited to one supplier though and so there are crowds of imitators who create similar sounding products. Eventually, the similarities merge into the original and the marketplace becomes swamped with inferior copies with exactly the same name.
Six months down the line and the market is saturated with cheap copies and poor quality imitations. Consumer confidence is ruined because of some high-profile bad experiences, and the carefully planned distribution networks and publicity drive which the couple had created are undermined. Orders have started to run dry in their home country but they can’t now even export the idea abroad because another company has registered their trademark ahead of them.
What could they have done better?
While this is an extreme hypothetical example, many growing brands have been curtailed by their failure to plan for the success of their products and the likely infringements which follow. Our advice is to give yourself the best possible chance of combating counterfeiters by considering brand protection from the very beginning of your business’ lifecycle. Here are a few steps you may want to consider in order to get ahead of the game. As ever though, there’s no substitute for the expertise and here at Pointer we specialize in helping businesses to realize their fullest potential by protecting their intellectual property. Why not speak with our experts today?
– Get registered. If you haven’t already done so then get your intellectual property registrations in order as soon as possible. It should be on your urgent checklist along with setting up a bank account and a business address! Even if it’s just your company name and you don’t have complicated logo marks or associated terms, there’s no excuse for not having control of your brand from the very beginning.
– Look to the future. Although you may only have one product line or sales territory right now, is this likely to change? If there are countries you want to sell to (or manufacture in) later on then you may need to consider just how long it takes to get a trademark in place there. It’s important to be aware from the start that intellectual property is protected by means of geographic and product differences. The marks you register early on may not protect you down the line when your business grows.
– Watch the numbers. If growth and international expansion do occur then bear in mind how important your own records can be in fighting the fakes. By consulting sales figures on a regular basis you will gain the fullest picture of where your sales are strongest, weakest and where a substantial difference may indicate that your once loyal customers have started to fall victim to imitators. Quantify where you have the biggest problems and work with a trusted partner to find the best ways to solve them.
– Be strategic. At Pointer we regularly perform landscape assessments for existing and potential clients. By having reliable data on the countries and online platforms where your brand is being most frequently abused you’ll be in the best position to find the most cost-effective and direct solution. Don’t take a scattergun approach to bash down every listing you see as it pops up, instead, take a measured view which lets you see where the true problems are and act accordingly.
Disclaimer: ALWAYS TAKE LEGAL ADVICE ON TRADEMARKS