When you find a good thing in business that no-one else has done quite like you, just yet, you want to make sure that you keep it protected. What makes your business unique is also often what makes it successful and you had better bet that there are people who are willing to try to take what you’ve built to use it for their own. But can you stop them?
If a competitor offers the same kind of services and products as you, but there is enough distinction to make them legally separate, then there isn’t anything that you can do to stop them. They have to step over one of the legal lines we’ll explain below for you to be able to do anything about it. Otherwise, you need to look at keeping your business competitive by finding the differences to highlight and to exploit. Providing superior service is going to result in more loyal customers, too.
There exist protections that can ensure that anything you have copyrighted is your intellectual property. This means that if someone else uses it, you can file a business litigation case against them to stop them and perhaps even get some money for damages. The property has to be wholly original, as well as in a tangible medium, meaning that things like specific branded visuals, media, and physical products all count towards your copyrights. Things that you have patented also have similar protections to copyrights, but they have to go through a process of application and approval.
There are certain things that don’t fit neatly within the definitions of copyrights that still have some level of legal protection surrounding them. Trademarks can be somewhat intangible, meaning that things like your logo and name can be trademarked. What is important is that, first of all, trademarks have to be registered. They don’t apply automatically like provable copyrights. Furthermore, they operate on a “use it or lose it” basis. The length of an applicable trademark can change but it’s not likely you will be able to pursue a legal course of action against a business that uses your logo decades after you last used it, for instance.
If you run a business that relies, in part, on freelancers and outsourced services to provide some of the services that you advertise, then you want to build relationships based partly on trust. However, you can’t leave yourself open to those who would work with you as a client, only to then attempt to poach your clients from you. For that reason, you should talk to your lawyer about putting a non-compete clause in any freelancer contracts you sign. You can’t stop anyone from competing against you entirely, but you can make sure they don’t use your practices or clients to do it.
There are some things that you can legally prevent other businesses and individuals from stealing, but there are other cases in which you will have to tolerate copycats. Protect what you can and make up for what you can’t by providing great service.