Is imitation the most sincere form of flattery?
Not in business, as it turns out—especially when revenue is on the line.
And before I dive too deeply into the material, it's important to make the distinction between a complimentary resemblance and an insincere competitor. As it turns out, a fellow business owner who is acting unethically can give you more headaches than you can handle.
You’ve worked so hard to build your business from the ground up–developing proprietary methods, customizing standard operating procedures, and perfecting the carefully curated content you’ve engineered over the years. When you’re getting ripped off and losing money as a result, there’s got to be something you can do to protect yourself, right?
The good news? There is!
Enter the trademark (and its good friend, the copyright).
Say it with me… Copycats, begone!
As a board-certified attorney and professional photographer, my advice on this one is pretty straightforward–if there’s a chance your work will get ripped off by a competitor for profit, it’s worth protecting.
You’ll want to trademark the name and phrasing of your business that distinguishes you and your offerings from your competitors (Patagonia and Ben and Jerry’s, for example).
Then, cover your bases by copyrighting your “artistic, literary, or intellectually created works.” Online course material, photographs, music, paintings, books, and so much more can fall into this category.
Don’t worry—we’ll get into the nitty-gritty details. Spoiler alert: The two work hand in hand to protect your content from those who’d attempt to profit off of it.
There’s a lot of money to lose and headaches to be had when you let this fall by the wayside. Ensure you’ve done all that you can to protect your business before the copycats come–that way, you’ll be empowered to take action.
And because you’re here, you’re in the right place. Let’s get started!
Trademark vs. Copyright—What’s the difference?
Trademarks and copyrights are two varieties of intellectual copy. Both are designed to protect your work from the dreaded copycats, but they don’t protect the same things.
In a nutshell, here’s the difference between the two: A trademark is what’ll ensure you’ve got exclusive rights to a distinguishing name or title–as long as you continue to use the name and title, your trademark will never expire. Score, right? You’ll want to copyright the original content you create to protect you from those who’d try to rip it off.
I’ve said it once before, but it bears repeating–protect your work before someone has the chance to “borrow” it. Trust your intuition as an entrepreneur. If you know you’ve got something seriously stealable, lock it down. And fast!
Let’s dive in a little deeper, starting with trademarks.
You’ll want to trademark what instantly sets your brand apart in a crowded space. That means names, logos, designs, slogans, words, or phrases that point to your brand in the marketplace. Once you register your trademark, it’ll appear in a national database that’ll prevent anyone else from laying claim to your name or other identifying elements. Once you’re registered, it’s yours for life! You will also be empowered to pursue legal action against those who are in violation of your trademark—this can include those who are attempting to use your protected name, imagery, or wording (or anything close to it). The Coca-Cola brand name and identity is the textbook example for intellectual property that should be trademarked.
Copyrighting, on the other hand, is much more broad in terms of what it protects. I like to think of it this way—if it’s an original work that came from that beautiful brain of yours, you can copyright it. As a business owner, there’s a lot of content that’s worth copyrighting, especially if you’re in the business of creating. Artists, makers, course creators…listen up! You’ll want to copyright photographs, song lyrics, books, curriculums, scripts, paintings, and anything else that’s “intellectually created,” as the US Patent and Trademark Office would put it. Essentially, a copyright gives you the exclusive right to share the work, sell the work, and more. Here’s the best part—a copyright grants you the ability to take action against those who would try to reproduce your work and profit off of it. It’s important to note that upon the creation of the work, the copyright is generated automatically. Because you created it, you are inherently the copyright owner. Don’t take this as an excuse not to be proactive when it comes to protecting your work… Keep reading to see what happens if you don’t!
Ready to get started? Check out our Guide on How To Trademark & Protect Your Business
Okay, so what’s a Patent?
Got an invention? A patent is another type of intellectual property designed specifically for the kind of stuff you see on Shark Tank—inventions, physical compounds, machinery and more. Patents are special: Rather than something that you file for, patents are granted to you by the US Patent and Trademark Office. At the end of the day, the spirit of a patent is just like that of the trademark and the copyright. It’s the first line of defense against those who’d attempt to copy your work.
What happens if I don’t trademark, patent, or copyright my work?
In short, you’re leaving yourself vulnerable in the event of a copycat. And take it from me: Copycat situations are waaay easier to be proactive than reactive about. If you don’t take the time to protect your work, you’ll likely catch wind of someone out there who’s replicated your work without your knowledge. However you find out, it’s easy to feel helpless when you know you’re missing the legal aspects that make your work truly yours. What’s worse is someone out there making money off of your ideas—that’s revenue you’re losing (and that’s not okay). From there, you’ve got some awkward emails to send before things get serious. Honestly, have you ever had to send an email starting with, “Hey! Sooo… I noticed that your new launch looks a lot like the offering I just rolled out last spring. What’s up with that?” Ugh. And if things don’t go your way from there, you’re looking at expensive attorney consultation fees, cease and desist letters, and potential mediation or litigation in the future (read: $$$).
Do yourself a favor. Get proactive. Register that trademark. Copyright your work. Apply for that patent. Protect your work—promise it’s worth it.
How do I get started?
It’s a fairly straightforward process to register your work with the government. It typically involves an online application, a small fee, and some correspondence with the appropriate public offices. If you’re applying for a trademark, ensure you’ve checked the public database to be certain that no one else has a claim to what you’re trying to protect. Remember—trademarks are forever!
If you’ve got too much on your plate to handle as it is, I can help you there. As one of my tailor-made legal services, you can relax while I handle the red tape. Make your copyright protection and trademark application easy by trusting an accomplished attorney with the finer details of your initial request. If you’d rather take things into your own hands, I can support you through the process with an initial consultation to ensure no roadblocks are standing in your way.
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