Copycats Can Steal Your Biz Idea

Quick, what’s the name of the blanket with sleeves?

USA Today Reports that if you said Snuggie, you’d be in good company. But that wouldn’t make Gary Clegg or Sean Iannuzzi very happy. Clegg created the Slanket and Iannuzzi created the Freedom Blanket before the Snuggie launch – and then they were out-marketed by Snuggie-maker Allstar Products Group.

There’s a slew of Snuggie-esque stories in the business world.

It’s the oft-repeated tale of an innovative firm coming out with a novel idea or a fresh take on an existing product, and then a new competitor – seeing the riches to be made on a popular product – creates a similar version.

Sarah and Jenifer Caplan, co-founders of the flat shoe brand FootzyRolls Luxe, also spend much time trying to keep their product line unique as rivals step onto their turf.

“We look at our market and say, ‘How can we be different?’ ” Jenifer says.

There were few competitors when they entered the market last year with rollable ballet flats that easily fit in a handbag. But the rivalry has heated up immensely.

Their newest competitor is Dr. Scholl’s. The footwear king just launched Fast Flats foldable shoes, which it markets as “a practical solution for a long day or night in heels.”

In this time of technological innovation and rapid-fire manufacturing, it’s easier than ever for a rival to rip off an idea, says David Kappos, director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office. “If someone sees your idea built, they will almost certainly be able to copy it and have it manufactured,” he says.

The first line of defense, Kappos says, is a patent.

“If you have a great idea, you’ve got to protect it,” he says. “If you don’t protect (your ideas), it’s very easy for others to legitimately take them.”

Yet, investing in patent protection doesn’t mean a company can become complacent. Firms should monitor for patent infringements and be ready to dole out cease-and-desist letters, as well as lawsuits.

And even if a company secures a patent, there is always a chance that competitors can legitimately tweak a product idea then sell their own version.

Photo by Slanket.

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