Fighting KnockOffs

Knock-offs are becoming a serious problem in many industries. Here is some advice about how to defend your products against them.

Protecting your intellectual property — including your inventions, ideas, processes, logos, or images — can be crucial to your company's success. Without such protection, cheap imitations of your products can quickly eat up profits. Copycats using your catchphrase or logo can muddy your brand in consumers' minds. Plus, legal protection of your property is key to securing licensing deals and venture capital. "We invest in companies selling products that can be protected," says Howard Anderson, senior managing director of Cambridge (Mass.)-based YankeeTek Ventures, which funds early-stage technology companies…

…Before you even open your company's doors, you should develop a strategy to protect your ideas. Start by enlisting a good attorney to determine whether you need copyright, trademark, patent, or other legal protection, and to guide you through the process of getting it. If you do discover violations, you'll need to decide which are worth fighting. Companies selling abroad also have to safeguard products there. And because the process of obtaining legal protection can drag on for years, you'll want to take some precautions while you wait.

There are already lawyers who specialize in this area. My guess is that over the next few years we will see an increase in consultants and other businesses that help navigate through these issues as well.