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  • Writer's pictureChris Reel

Brand Success Breeds Copycats - And It's Terrible For Small Business

Take it from Harry Styles, who claims in a federal lawsuit filed in January that the success of his brand has spawned counterfeiters. And yep, you guessed it, these copycats are selling phony merchandise, pretending to be legit, and ultimately taking away from his brand’s bottom line. Here's the kicker... these copycats are selling this fake merch on reputable platforms like Amazon, and Walmart. Crazy, right?


Counterfeiting is nothing new. And it’s only a matter of time before those small businesses who pour time, energy, effort, and dollars into their brand building campaigns, start to see these copycats come for them. Sorry to sound cynical, but there's a stat at the end of this article that gives you a little peek into why I'm thinking this way.


And I’m telling you, if I had a nickel for every time I heard someone say “that’ll never happen to us.” Anyway, I digress…


When you think about it, though, copycats really don’t care who you are. I mean, they had to know that at some point they’d be caught by Harry and his army-size team, right? And here’s the deal, if it can happen to one of the most iconic entertainers in a generation, it can happen to a small business just like yours.


So what can you do? Here’s a few tips to get you started.


1. Get Your Trademarks Locked In.


By getting your trademarks registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office you are able to keep copycats across the entire country from stepping on your brand’s toes. Your turf just became the entire United States of America. Not too shabby if you ask me.


And while it’s awesome that you can stop copycats inside the United States, you can also set up a big ol’ wall around the country too. Yep, with a registered trademark you can work with Customs and Border Protection to inspect for and seize counterfeit goods that are coming into the country from elsewhere.


And what’s this do? Well, now you have a finger on the pulse of:

  • quality assurance of the products entering the U.S markets bearing your trademark,

  • the labor force behind the manufacture of your products and products bearing your trademark.

  • where these copycats are coming from before they have a shot at entering the U.S marketplace.

In a nutshell, getting your trademarks locked in gives you the opportunity to be proactive with the takedown and elimination of copycats. Which, when we consider the amount you’ve invested in developing your brand and its value, the last thing we want is a copycat with an inferior product, or a manufacturing process that uses child labor (yes, this happens), to be selling to your customers and would-be customers.


As we’ve talked about before, the court of public opinion is a very unforgiving place. Don’t believe me? Just ask Celsius


2. Monitor Your Trade Channels


Copycats will undoubtedly use the same or similar trade channels as you. After all, they’re copying you, so it would only make sense that they'd be using the trade channels you’re using.


So, monitor them!


And when I say monitor your trade channels, I don’t just mean occasionally. By monitoring at random you’re engaging in a professional version of whack-a-mole. And trust me, it’s just as infuriating as the game itself.


Instead, have a monthly or, at the very least, quarterly deep dive into your trade channels (and e-commerce even if you’re not selling online) to see what’s going on behind your back. By consistently diving into your trade channels you are able to jump on these copycats early and before they gain momentum.


3. Develop an Enforcement Program


Work with your intellectual property attorney to build out a program that breaks down systematically how to approach counterfeiters. This should include:

  • Content that educations your employees to be on the lookout for suspected copycats and how they should go about reporting them.

  • The frequency of your deep-dive due diligence (see Point 2 for more on this).

  • Instructions on what information is to be gathered about a potential copycat and where it is to be stored (e.g. where they were found, what product they are selling, how long the product listing has been live, name and contact information, etc.).

  • Methods to identify the copycat’s country of origin.

  • Pre-litigation dispute resolution strategies

  • Litigation preparation

Protecting your brand is one of the most important things you can do for it. You've worked way too hard to build up the brand you have to let someone else ride its coattails and risk driving it to ruins, all for a quick buck. Well, my entrepreneurial friend, here's your chance to make sure the only bucks made off your brand are bucks that are made by you!


And if you aren’t convinced that this is something worth looking into for you and your small business. As of August, 2022, Customs and Border Protection seized approximately $2.4 Billion (with a B) worth of counterfeit goods at various ports of entry across the United States.


Did I mention that’s with a B?

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