We have a sincere wish for you:
To have someone steal from you at least once in your career.
We wholeheartedly wish this to happen to all the readers of this article.
Not because we are spiteful or because we disregard the honest efforts of business people to establish their unique and recognizable brands.
We wish this because thieves usually set their mind on appropriating things of value. Not everything is worth stealing or copying.
This is not to say that being plundered is a pleasant experience. Sure it is not, and sure as hell you will need all the power of law to back up your efforts of protecting and/or reclaiming your intellectual property. It isn’t a golden watch which you could simply get back with a little help from police, or just buy a new one, expensive though it is.
“But who would want to copy my brand these days when there are so many great things out there to draw inspiration on?”
Think twice and you’ll never ask this question again.
Sure, nobody will want to steal from you if your work has no value, or if it simply doesn’t sparkle with any customer base.
However, the moment you get to notice that someone has used your work as a little bit more than just inspiration, or has downright copied it, it will serve as a confirmation that you’re doing something that matters.
Let your ego feed on this for a couple of moments… And then think about the consequences. If you do nothing and let them have it, soon there will be no food left for the ego.
What is intellectual property?
Here’s a little story.
Tyler and June are wine glass manufacturers.
How are they going to distinguish themselves from each other and from other competitors? It’s not like they are Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin. Their authenticity is not self-explanatory. Sure, they both claim their wine glasses are the best on the market, but this statement itself won’t win any attention of their customers.
Creating a perfect wine glass is the job of an artisan. Making this wine glass unique, recognizable and outstanding, instilling a story and some sense into it is the job of a marketer.
Tyler believes he just needs to go on with doing a great job of making a perfect wine glass. He is a confident and practical guy who doesn’t buy into stories about digitality, buzz, social media etc. “Wine lovers know just how important is the glass they drink from. I don’t need to explain anything to them. My customers are not people who believe a common drinking glass is as good as any,” thinks Tyler.
June, however, knows that market rules are changing. She is aware that making a great product isn’t enough. There’s so much more to it. She wants to develop a brand that people will talk about. She needs to grow her customer base, to educate more and more people about the importance of drinking wine in a proper way.
So, she decides to build her brand online. A good name, an elegant, stylish and recognizable logo, catchy and meaningful slogans, growing and nurturing audience online, all of these things and processes are needed for branding her product and making it distinctive from her competitors’.
June’s wine glasses come and go. They are not her property. They are something she trades in exchange for money. However, the secrets of making them to be better than anyone else’s, as well as all of the thinking, commitment and culture that go with it – that is June’s intellectual property. A wine glass is just a product. The story about it, its significance, beauty, as well as the story about June herself (how and why she became a wine glass manufacturer, how deep is her knowledge and expertise), that is the essence of a brand.
This added value to her product is June’s intellectual property. Tyler only has the product, whereas June has a complex system of usability, knowledge and story that she owns. She has developed and strengthen the brand; now it’s time for the brand to strengthen her business.
Of course, the more you own, the more you have to protect.
Let’s look at official definitions now.
“Intellectual property refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary or artistic works; designs; and symbols, names and images used in commerce.” This is how the World Intellectual Property Organization defines it. Bravo! Your business creation goes hand in hand with works of art! The law, at least, treats it that way. And it may as well be a work of art.
The aforementioned organization recommends protecting your intellectual property by applying for a patent (when it comes to inventions or new technical solutions), copyright (for literary or artistic works, as well as software, advertisements, technical drawings or maps) or a trademark (which can distinguish June’s wine glasses from Tyler’s, even if both of them create and sell the same kind of product).
How can I protect my brand from intruders?
We have another wish for you.
Once the stealing happens, we wish you to be able to defend your property.
Sure, copying or misusing anyone’s intellectual property is forbidden by law, and those who dare do it will have fines to pay.
But… This world would be a wonderful place if things were so simple. Ask Lady Gaga.
Six years ago she wanted to sue an ice cream manufacturer from Covent Garden (London) because one of his branded products was named Baby Gaga.
Now, it stays unclear whether she was bothered by the fact that the name sounded similar to hers or that the product in question was made from human milk (ewwww!). She did mention it was disgusting, though. (Imagine it coming from a person who wore rotten bovine flash to prove a point.)
She didn’t file a lawsuit after all, and Mr. O’Connor, the imaginative ice cream maker, didn’t want to change the name either, leaving us to wonder if the court would have declared this an infringement or not.
There are all kinds of crazy copyright infringement cases that happen in the showbiz world and are often hundreds of thousands dollars worth.
This means the process of assessing someone’s guilt is not easy. At least if you are Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga.
So, what are the necessary steps of precaution for us, mere mortals?
Thieves are roaming everywhere on the internet, so you have to be safe on all fronts. Purchase a domain with your brand’s name before someone else does. (Some companies even buy similar domains, just to make sure nobody would take advantage of them.) The same goes for social media accounts, with a bonus – they are free to use, plus they are something you can’t do without if you want to raise your brand awareness these days.
There are tools for tracking dishonest guys all over the world. One of them is Google Alerts. It is free, and you can set up as many alerts as you want in order to see if someone is making an unauthorized use of your intellectual property.
But what to do when it happens? (And if you’re any good at what you do, the question is “when” and not “if”.)
Lawsuits and litigations will hurt your wallet (although in some cases the state will refund the expenses), and they may take forever to end. That’s why it is often wise to just warn the impostor and ask them to stop using the stolen piece of property.
If they are really persistent or stubborn, then you have no other choice but to hire an attorney and start the process.