As the old adage goes, imitation is the best form of flattery. However, when you have unique concept that is your baby, small business copycats can drive a person crazy. Especially with so many creatives as our clients, we know how important it is to protect your ideas and artistry from intellectual property theft. NFIB recommends filing the appropriate patents and trademarks as soon as possible, as well as creating a Google Alert to let you know when any other business might be plagarizing your name or product model. One of the more effective ways to combat intellectual property theft of products on the Internet is filing a "trade dress. This is proving to be much more effective even than a patent, because it falls under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. There is no debate. Either [the offending party has] to remove it from the Internet and stop selling it or Google will shut them down,” she says. “A trade dress isn't for everyone. It protects the look of a product. But in my case, it’s worth a lot.”
That said, there are plenty of ways to copycat that are just plain legal. Don't fear those copycats or try to fight them—simply be better than them. Use the competition as healthy motivation to improve your products, provide better customer service, spruce up your shop and do just about everything better.
Copycats are a tell-tale sign that you're doing something right, so take it as a tip of the hat to the hard work you've put in to make your business what it is. Generally, copycats are not viciously trying to put you out of business. They recognize a winner and want to piggyback on your success. A recent article from PandoDaily argues that type of validation is hugely important and that copycats are actually the best thing for your business. "Ultimately, the strategy that wins out is to be your own architect. Losing sleep over copycats stealing your business model and making reactive decisions to squash them lets them win. Worse, it taxes your team in their efforts to make something truly great."
Same goes for the flip side. Often times, being a copycat (to some extent) can actually be good for your business. Chances are, someone somewhere was also running a business like yours before you were. Borrow strategies and ideas from other successful companies (whether from your neighbors down the block or from sister-businesses in other cities) and implement them in way that makes them new and fresh for your customers. There's no need to constantly re-invent the wheel, just make the wheels at your shop more appealing than others.
How to you act (or react) when it comes copycats? Let us know in the comments!