Have you got a highly-successful domestic brand or product you’re worried could be stolen by overseas businesses and used to turn a profit without your consent? Known as the copycat problem, and where there is an opportunity to make money, there are copycats so this unfortunate act of intellectual thievery is nothing new. It can be frustrating, seeing people profiting from your hard work, using your brand power to peddle their products or services; however, there are steps you can take to protect what is rightfully yours.
In this article, we present a few actions you can take to protect your brand and its IP. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Remember you’ve worked tirelessly creating your business from the ground up and now it’s a brand consumers respect.
Identify Risk Markets
The first step is to identify the markets where your brand is at most risk of being stolen. To afford your product protection, you need to take action within each specific market to secure it. But with so many markets around the world, it would be challenging to protect your brand in every single one of them — not to mention cost-prohibitive. Instead, it’s best to focus on the danger zones — the markets with similar consumer bases or interest in your type of brand. A quick example would be the US and the UK. These markets have very similar trends and interests, so it’s always a good move to protect your rights in both.
Solidify Your Position with a Local Business
Axe, the famed brand of male grooming products, encountered a problem when they attempted to enter the UK market. The business name Axe was taken, so they pivoted, and now Axe is known as Lynx in the UK, but this was not an ideal situation to be in. The best way to protect your brand assets overseas is to start a business in that country. Owning a company registered within a country gives you exclusive access to the brand name. Nobody else can start a company using your name as company names must be unique.
Apply for Trademarks
Why do you need a trademark if you own the company name? For two reasons.
The first is that a trademark can cover more than a company name. So for example, if you were called The Fashion Company, trademarking would help you secure your rights against somebody trying to start a business called something similar, like The Fashion Co. Having ownership of your business name does not do this. So why not just register a trademark and not bother with registering the local business? Because trademarks have to be approved, and owning the company helps support your arguments for controlling the trademark.
The second reason for applying trademarks is you can protect unique assets. For example, J.K Rowling owns the rights to famous Harry Potter names so people can’t use them in their own business. If our fake brand, The Fashion Company, has a unique product, such as a shoe that says the words “We Are Human” we could trademark this particular product to stop others selling what is essentially our intellectual property.
Be Careful of the Language in Your Trademark
Trademark applications are highly effective at securing your brand, but rival companies will always be looking at ways of getting around your legal rights. An excellent way to achieve success is to develop trademarks that are very obviously unique. For example, Starbucks is a world-renowned coffee brand, but its trademark has nothing to do with coffee. The result is that if somebody tries to do something similar by selling coffee under a brand like Stardollars, it’s very obviously infringement. If instead Starbucks were called Coffeebucks, and somebody tried to sell products under Coffeedollars, it would be much harder to prove infringement because the trademark is so generic. The business could easily argue you can’t trademark something so universal as coffee.
Enforce Your Branding Rights
Nobody is going to police your branding for you. If people start selling rip-off products under a similar name, the only way they’re going to stop is if you take action. It’s one of the most frustrating factors in brand ownership, but you must do it. Keep an eye on the market and watch for copycats. Spot a problem? Take action immediately. The longer you wait to act, the more difficult it can be to win a legal case.
Cybercrime Laws That Can Protect You Against Online Reputation Attacks
Cybercrimes can have a lot of bad consequences such as a damaged professional image and lower chances of getting insurance or loan application approval. In fact, a recent opinion piece in Bloomberg.com revealed just how much damage online articles can do to one’s reputation.
Fortunately, there are cybercrime laws that can come useful when you become a victim of online defamation, identity fraud, or credit card fraud. A crucial step to protect yourself against these cybercrimes is to educate yourself on the applicable laws.
Laws Against Defamation in Blogs and Online Message Boards
Just like in traditional media, one can also sue for defamation for statements published online. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s legal guide for bloggers, one of the following elements must be established: (a) the statement must have been publicized not just to the person defamed but at least to one other person and (b) it should be a false statement of fact that concerns the one who initiated the case or that is damaging to the reputation of that person.
How the case is approached also varies depending on whether the person is a private individual or a public figure. In the case of the latter, one must also prove actual malice before a remark or statement is considered defamatory. While in the case of the former, one must only be proven to have been negligent in publishing a certain statement to establish that he is liable.
Online defamation laws vary per state. In Georgia, for example, even after winning the case, you will not be able to receive damages if, before taking things to court, you failed to demand for retraction of the specific defamatory statement.
Moreover, some states have no specific way yet of ruling online defamation cases. In the meantime, according to Medialaw.org, the same laws that cover defamation in traditional media apply to defamation on the internet.
Since the rules against online defamation are not that clear yet, one might think that a person can easily pass off what he publishes online as an opinion that makes him less liable. However, courts can determine if an online content is an opinion or not, so you don’t need to worry in case the person who attacked you use this excuse to his defense.
Laws Against Identity Fraud
Identity fraud is one of the most common offenses since the dawn of the internet and innovative devices like smartphones. As of 2014, there have been 332,646 identity theft complaints recorded in the Federal Trade Commission’s 2014 Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book. Though not expressly stated, there are current U.S. laws that you can use in your defense like 18 U.S.C. 1028 that covers any type of fraud concerning identification documents and personal information.
Under subsections 7 and 8 of 18 U.S.C. 1028, a person who “knowingly transfers, possesses, or uses, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, or in connection with, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of Federal law, or that constitutes a felony under any applicable State or local law; or knowingly traffics in false or actual authentication features for use in false identification documents, document-making implements, or means of identification” can be punished using the laws provided in that section.
So if someone happens to steal your personal information online and uses it for illegal activities, this particular law has got you covered. With this law in mind, you can be empowered knowing that the law can protect you against identity fraud.
Laws Against Credit Card Fraud
Online or not, both forms of credit card fraud is punishable under the U.S. laws. Under 15 U.S. Code 1644, anyone who has done the following with a credit card acquired fraudulently is liable:
- Use, attempt or conspiracy to use card in transaction affecting interstate or foreign commerce
- Transporting, attempting or conspiring to transport card in interstate commerce
- Use of interstate commerce to sell or transport card
- Receipt, concealment, etc., of goods obtained by use of card
- Receipt, concealment, etc., of tickets for interstate or foreign transportation obtained by use of card
- Furnishing of money, etc., through use of card
Anyone who violates this law will be fined a maximum of $10,000 or imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both.
When your online reputation is compromised through defamatory statements, identity theft, or credit card fraud, know that you can take legal actions. Another way to keep your reputation sparkling clean is to build a strong online presence. If you still haven’t done so, you may start by creating a blog, beefing up your social networking sites, and signing up for a reputation management service.
With online reputation sites, you can create a public profile wherein you can select what you want people to know about you. In case you run into a problem with articles or comments that are damaging to your image, it even has a service to help you have those content or search results taken down. Now you can worry less about what cybercrimes can do to your life and have peace of mind when using the internet.
Why Its Important To Engage A Lawyer ASAP When Starting A Business
Contrary to belief, you don’t need a lawyer for every legal issue that you might encounter in your company. For instance, one of the first jobs that you’ll need to complete when setting up your business is choosing a name and trademarking your business. That might sound like a legal matter, and it is, but it’s not one where you’ll need legal assistance. Instead, you can select the name yourself and then sort out trademarking using the provided tools from the government. There are plenty of other similar situations where a legal issue doesn’t require legal assistance.
Issues With Employees
You will definitely need a lawyer for any legal issues with employees. For instance, you might have to deal with a wrongful termination lawsuit. When you fire an employee, it is possible that they don’t believe there was a fair or reasonable cause for terminating their contract. If that’s the case, they will sue your company for the loss of wages. A lawyer can protect you from an issue like this and help present the case for the aforementioned termination. Of course, this is just one possibility, and a lawyer can help you with any legal issue with employees. Another example might be certain workers complaining that you are running a hostile work environment. Of course, employees aren’t the only ones who can bring legal claims against your business.
It’s possible that a lawsuit could be brought forward by a customer or client of your company. A client might argue that there was negligence on your behalf when you were completing a service for them. If that’s the case, they will sue you for any damages they experienced due to the issue with their service. A lawyer will be able to show that you completed a service in good faith and there were no issues with the service provided.
Government And Local Regulations
You may have breached government regulations or regulations set out by the local council. If that’s the case, they could bring a legal claim against your business. Again, a lawyer will defend your position in any investigation where you are under suspicion for violating local laws.
All these issues are examples of litigation that can be brought forward against your business. It’s important to realize that a lawyer will have a larger role in your business than just defending the company against lawsuits.
Establishing A Corporation
There are certain areas of setting up a business that you can complete yourself. For Instance, you can write a business plan without the help of a lawyer but setting up a corporation is a tad trickier. You need to form a board, establishing the main shareholders. There are intricate legal requirements on the administrative side of establishing a corporation, and for this, you will need the help of a corporate lawyer. Particularly, when dealing with issues such as taxation.
Filing A Patent
Another reason you will need a lawyer is to file a patent. This is far more complex than trademarking a company, and if you want to ensure the rights to your design are protected, you will need legal assistance. There is also the question of whether a legal patent will be effective or indeed, beneficial. It’s possible that gaining a patent will have very little effect on the success of your business. Firstly, successfully gaining rights to a patent is a lengthy and arduous process that can take years. You may want to consult a lawyer to discover the benefits of a patent and whether it would be useful to you before entering into this process.
Buying And Selling Businesses
Perhaps you are starting a business by purchasing it from another owner. If that’s the case, you will certainly need a lawyer to ensure that the proceeding is carried out above board. Lawyers can also help you get the upper hand in a proceeding like this by ensuring that you get the right price. Or, perhaps looking at lease agreements for you. Furthermore, they can help you convince the previous owner to stay on as an advisor for your new business. This will strengthen the company and make the change in management far easier.
If you are selling a business, a lawyer can help you in ensuring you get the best price for your company. To do this, they need to start work as soon as your company opens. A lawyer will advise you on the records you need to keep to ensure your business is attractive to potential future owners from day one.
You can also use legal assistance to help you gain the assets of another company through a purchase. When setting up your business, you can do this to immediately gain a stronger position on the market.
Of course, arguably the main reason for hiring a lawyer in your business is for a preemptive strike. We have mentioned several of the key legal issues you can encounter in your business and how a lawyer can aid you in these situations. However, the main purpose of engaging a lawyer when starting a business is to help you avoid this issues completely. With a legal expert on your side, you will be able to ensure that you never break the regulations that could put you on the wrong side of the law.
They will also ensure that you take the right steps to avoid legal issues with employees. For instance, a legal advisor will make sure that the standards of work are clearly laid out so that employees are unable to argue wrongful termination.
As you can see then, a lawyer is an essential service that every new business owner needs with roles that reach far further than litigation.
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