Keep copycats at bay: How to uphold your brand value
Your clothing brand is well-loved globally for its sleek yet comfortable designs. One day, while on Instagram, you’re confronted with an advertisement for a knock-off T-shirt bearing what looks to be your logo with slight modifications.
What do you do?
Copycats are always on the prowl – but that doesn’t mean you have to settle for scraps. Let’s look at Company C’s case as a cautionary tale when it comes to dealing with infringers:
Company C is an established fashion business from Singapore, with global customers who swear by its stylish and high-quality apparel, and excellent customer service. In comes a copycat, who blatantly markets its goods on the same online marketplaces under a confusingly similar trade mark, hoping to steal a slice of this pie. This quickly eats into Company C’s market share and profits – its brand is quickly associated with dodgy, inconsistent marketing, and investors are demanding that something be done to take control of the situation.
With an already established brand, Company C is actually in good stead to act. Successful brands create opportunities for growth, but also attract malicious attention, especially online. Popular brands are an obvious target for ‘brand abuse’, in the form of counterfeits, impersonation, phishing, cybersquatting and more. Ignored over time, brand abuse tarnishes brand value, weakens consumer trust in the brand, and hurts sales.
Despite their advantageous position, Company C was too focused on expanding its business rather than protecting its current successes, especially with branding. This gave the copycats the perfect opportunity to hijack their brand – they quickly applied for a trade mark, which was published prior to approval. Even then, Company C remained oblivious and failed to act at the most critical stage – opposing the trade mark application upon its publication – and the trade mark was successfully granted to the copycat. By the time Company C realised what had happened after spotting its knock-offs in the marketplace, they only had one route left: a costly legal proceeding to try to cancel the trade mark. Now, two years on, the dispute remains unresolved.
Brand abuse is far more rampant in the digital space simply because it’s easier to access due to anonymity, unconstrained by time and geography. But you don’t have to stay a victim like Company C – fight back with our 4 tips that will help you be proactive against copycats:
1. Take your trademark seriously. Your distinctive trademark forms the legal basis for you to exercise your rights to your brand. I recommend checking the annual trademark gazettes issued by IP offices in the markets you operate in for any similar marks – you can also get your trade mark agent or lawyer to monitor them. Seek your trade mark agent’s or lawyer’s advice immediately when you see potentially similar marks published, regardless of class. The similarity can be visual, aural, or in its meaning.
2. Be aware of market offerings. Regularly scan and monitor online marketplaces and social media platforms to uncover any brand abuse as early as possible.
3. Act fast to clamp down on brand abuse. Show your willingness to enforce your rights. For example, immediately file a removal request to the social media platform owner as soon as you spot an impersonation or a counterfeit listing.
4. Rinse and repeat. Make steps 2 and 3 a regular part of your agenda so brand abusers know you are watching them. When they find it hard to make a quick buck on your brand because you watch them and take action so quickly, you win.
The key to upholding your brand value is to understand the ultimate objective of brand protection. Brand protection is less about bringing copycats to justice, and more about making your brand a tough target. The harder it is for copycats to benefit off your expense, the less they try.
Copycats aside, other brand abuses like cybersquatting, phishing, vishing and more need to be dealt with to protect your brand holistically. For more best practices and tips to strategically safeguard your brand online against a range of brand abuses, check out our course conducted jointly with the Singapore Business Federation, No more Copycats: Brand Protection in the Digital Space.
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