You may have seen some recent outcry via blogs and Facebook about a mom inventor who basically had her patent-pending invention design stolen out from underneath her. You can read more about it here, but basically, it looks as though a larger company stole Peachy, LLC’s concept, design and even her custom advertising images! That is pretty terrible if you ask me.

But, beware, even if you’re not an inventor, small business theft is common. The above example sheds a bad light on larger businesses, but it isn’t always a larger company taking advantage of a smaller one. Other small, mom-owned businesses who are just starting out can also be the culprit. Sometimes it’s a result of naivety but sometimes it is just blatant theft. This is one more good reason to do your research before launching a business and make sure you’re not infringing on someone else!

Trademarks, copyrights and patents can help us protect what is ours, but sometimes it isn’t enough. And, sometimes protection costs more than new entrepreneurs can afford. However, these things are definitely something that serious entrepreneurs should invest in.

I know first-hand the difficulties that copycats can cause and how expensive it can be to legally fight trademark infringement. Unfortunately, I’m not alone. This is an issue that is more common than you may know and it comes in varying forms.

Kelly Russo, owner of Travel with the Magic, has had several instances of others using her designs and materials. “In the past year I have had around five companies steal the layout, colors, HTML coding from the home page all the keywords there and more from my website,” she said.  “I have also had people steal graphics and buttons made for my website that Travel with the Magic paid for.” Not only have her backgrounds, borders, fonts, frames and navigation bar been reproduced, but Russo also said her entire terms and conditions and privacy policy pages have also been copied. 

Russo’s strategy is to immediately contact the site owner, send them a cease and desist with proof and demand that the copied material is taken down within 24 hours. Everyone that Russo has contacted has then removed the materials. However, some companies have apologized while others have made excuses. “I try to be firm, but when someone apologizes I accept it and move on. I know how hard it is to build your own site but it is better to build relationships with people and then ask for help, rather than just take someone’s hard work.”

Issues like this can have an obvious negative effect on someone’s business. “Once, someone’s site looked so similar to mine I had a client contact me and ask if I had a new agent. She thought that person was a division of Travel with the Magic.” When there are strong similarities between sites or business names, it’s easy for consumers to confuse the two. “If the copycat agency is not offering good customer service or helping clients the right way, it can negatively affect our reputation,” she added.

Russo admits that it is a tough situation and can be intimidating to contact someone you believe is copying you. “However, when you build a website and put the time and effort into it, someone should not steal your hard work.”

You may not always know if someone has copied or stolen from you. But, you should keep an eye out for it. Be active in your niche and monitor competitors. You should also set up Google Alerts for your business name or other keywords so you know when someone else is using them online.

Have you faced issues such as these? What have you done about it? Join the discussion in our Forum!