When It Comes to Knockoffs, Imitation Is the Costliest Form of Flattery

Trademarks and patents are far from perfect protection but they are, literally, the least a business can do to protect itself from counterfeiters.

learn more about Rohan Ayyar

By Rohan Ayyar

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

As technology shrinks the world quicker with every passing day, people across the world have started sharing similar tastes in food, fashion, entertainment and more. The same brands that set runways on fire in Milan today are fervently stocked up by boutiques in Hong Kong tomorrow.

Trouble is, sometimes the Armani suits in those boutiques are missing an "r' or the Louis Vuitton bags are adorned with a "DV' instead of the iconic "LV'. The most famous brands in the world lose over $1.8 trillion each year to the global counterfeiting industry that infringes on recognized trademarks and copyrights.

Where the law stands.

Trademarks and copyrights are laws that protect the intellectual property of businesses, inventors, communities, even countries from being copied by unauthorized third party entities.

Typically, each country has its own set of trademark and copyright laws that protect and promote inventors, writers, artists and businesses within their borders. By issuing a trademark to an individual or an organization, the country's legal system recognizes the trademark owner's right to monetize the trademark and prevent other entities from benefiting from it.

Often there are conflicts between what is deemed as patentable in one country to what is not in others. These regional variations can mean the difference between market domination and recurring losses. Take Microsoft's China operations, for example. A gigantic majority of all PCs in China run pirated versions of Windows. Microsoft estimates the resulting loss in revenue to be around $64 billion in China alone.

That amount seems like a drop in the ocean for a Microsoft or an Armani. But what if "Fancy Footwear Inc.' wanted to take their brand to the global stage? What would happen if their favorite shoe style gets copied to Mars and back?

Related: How to Defend Your Designs Against Knockoffs

Protecting your turf.

When you launch a new business and you want people to distinguish your products from your competitors', a catchy brand name, logo or tagline can do the trick. But simply printing your brand name on your products does not prevent copycats from profiting from your efforts.

To protect your business legally, begin by picking a trademark-able name for your brand. Start with the basics, like doing a simple Google search in the countries where you intend to operate your business. Check national databases like the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for existing trademarks on the name that you've picked before you proceed to market it to your audience.

Once you zero in on your chosen brand name, the next step would be to register it in the country you wish to enter. If world domination is on your mind, registering with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is a good idea. The EU countries have a common body called the European Communities Trademark Association that issues the Community Trade Mark. However, if you're not looking at more than a handful of countries at a time, registering with individual countries may make more financial sense.

No business can do without a website today. Choose a domain name and register it right away to stay ahead of copycats and cyber squatters. Sites like GoDaddy or Register.com offer easy online registration for your domain name.

Trademarks are not limited to names. Key product models, like Chuck Taylors from Converse, or distinguishing elements like packaging (e.g. Tiffany's little blue box), are all trademark worthy. Make sure you protect these under IPR laws with the same vigor as your brand name and domain name.

While these are not too difficult to pull off by yourself for one country, going international is a different ballgame altogether. You can opt for the services/expertise of an international trademark registration agency such as Marcaria to smooth out registration formalities across boundaries and keep all your paperwork in one place.

Related: 7 Reasons Why Trademarks Are Important to Your Business

Never let down your guard.

Getting trademark protection is just the first step in making your mark in a new country. The impunity with which counterfeiters copy successful brands shows that without the right enforcement, no trademark will ever have any value.

Keep your trademarks valid by renewing them on a timely basis. Prominently display your registered trademark sign ™ or ® to make it crystal clear to would-be copiers that your brand is protected by law. Make it your job to monitor your market for copycat or me-too products that are too-close-for-comfort to your own products or trademarks. Finally, crack the whip and take swift legal action against trademark offenders and fight for what is rightfully yours.

While your trademarks don't guarantee you immunity from counterfeiters, they do form your first line of defense against them.

Related: The Companies That Apply for the Most Patents and Trademarks (Infographic)

Rohan Ayyar

Regional Marketing Manager

Rohan Ayyar is the  Regional Marketing Manager India, SEMrush. He is an avid blogger, with posts featured on MarketingProfs, Social Media Today and Business Insider, among other places.

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