I have just completed a fascinating interview with Julie Austin; the inventor of the wrist water bottles Swiggies over at Women Home Business. She invented this nifty product after she passed out from dehydration while running, and realized the need of runners and active individuals for an easy and less cumbersome way of carrying water during exercise.
One statement that struck me most during the interview was when she said:
I spend a good part of every single day fighting off copycats. It happens to every inventor, even the biggest companies out there.
She poured her blood, sweat and tears to get the product developed and launched into market. She even maxed out all her credit cards and lived life very frugally just to get her product idea to fruition. Once the product was launched and all patents received, she found that battling copycats was going to be part of her business life going forward.
Julie documented some of her fight with copycats and counterfeiters of her product in her Infringer Blacklist blog http://juliethebulldog.wordpress.com/. As she put it:
Just to let you know how frustrating this is, I spend about an hour a day swatting down infringers. I call almost every night, and I call every number they have on file.
Some of the lessons that can be gleaned from Julie’s blog on how inventors can protect their products from copycats and counterfeiters include:
1. Be very vigilant about protecting your product.
Just because you have a patent or trademark, don’t think that someone will implement that for you. It will be up to you to monitor copycats and patent infringers.
2. Never underestimate how much money you are losing to the thieves.
You are losing money from counterfeiters. They are stealing your sales from you and they are affecting your .
3. Hire a patent lawyer.
Get a patent lawyer. Yes, they are expensive, but you need them to help you fight counterfeiters. Request the lawyer to draw up a cease and desist letter that you can send to infringers.
4. Check Alibaba.com and TradeKey.com often.
Both Alibaba and TradeKey are hotbeds of counterfeiters. Both sites have an Intellectual Property Rights Protection Policy, so be sure to familiarize yourself about their policies and the procedures you need to follow to report infringements of your intellectual property.
Be prepared to submit your complaints and claimed IPR infringement forms several times before these sites shut down the listings of counterfeiters and copycats. Of course, it would be nice if they act immediately once you submit a complaint; but this does not happen sometimes. Just submit and submit. And even if they’ve taken down one counterfeiter, know that another one may pop up so constantly check the site.
5. Don’t be afraid to contact the counterfeiters directly.
Send the counterfeiters the cease and desist letter, along with attorney’s information and proof of award of patent. Some will play dumb; some will ignore you, and some will pretend they do not understand English — but there may be a few that will listen to you and stop claiming your product to be theirs.
6. Hit them in the wallet.
Don’t just contact the counterfeiters: go after businesses that work with them as well. Send letters to the board of directors of U.S. companies that do business with them (with proof of course) to let them know they are dealing with counterfeiters.
7. Contact the companies hosting the websites of the counterfeiters.
Send proof to the web host. Reliable web hosts have strict policies against counterfeiting and will shut down their websites.
8. Hit them in terms of traffic.
Contact the search engines and file a complaint to websites selling counterfeit versions of your product. Google, for example, has strict policies against counterfeiters and will kick out Adword advertisers or Google Shopping merchants found to be selling counterfeit products.
9. Prepare with all the documentation you need to file claims against these counterfeiters.
These documents include patent certificates, pictures, website URLs of intellectual property violators, and other documentation that may be asked from you.
10. Be prepared to go to court.
Of course, nobody wants to go to court. But sometimes, it is the only means left for you to stop the counterfeiters. Just hope that the threat of a lawsuit will make them stop from selling your products.
It is important to understand that some people just do not understand that what they are doing is stealing. It is up to you, the inventor, to be vigilant and relentless in protecting your business.
Recommended Books on How to Protect Your Inventions from Copycats and Counterfeiters:
- How to Invent and Protect Your Invention: A Guide to Patents for Scientists and Engineers
- Hardcore Inventing: Invent, Protect, Promote, and Profit From Your Inventions
- Patent Manual – How to Patent and Protect Your Ideas For Ever (Patent, Patent law)
- The Essential Inventor’s Guide: Step-by-step methods to successfully evaluate, patent, and market your invention on a budget
- Patent Law for Computer Scientists: Steps to Protect Computer-Implemented Inventions