My team and I are currently in the process of investigating another business entirely copying our concept (including the branding, name and everything). The reason we are tackling this issue at the moment is because we are looking at possibly opening other offices. Going to court will probably cost a fair bit, be time consuming and be very demoralising for my team to a certain extent although our culture is very strong and we believe in going through this process.
Now - as marketers we see a lot of businesses steal intellectual property (or attempt to) - logos, branding, wording, style, concepts etc. We had a client bring us the logo of the bank of China to copy (which we refused to do) and we all too often see a business and get a terrible feeling that we have seen the whole thing before - a few Google searches later - yes we have.
Now I'd like to share the perspective of a marketing professional, business person and a person who will soon go through the process of litigation. Let's go back to how it all started - I came up with the idea of a hive and the branding after reading an article in the HBR called 'What bees can teach you about business.' (all this is on our website if you'd like to understand the whole thing).
I worked countless hours with my first drone to put the concept together and to execute it well - a lot of our time and energy went into this. We knew where we were going and why we had picked what we wanted it to look like. Now imagine two Gen Y founders with no money - working from a two bedroom apartment till 3am creating this whole thing which might or might not work.
My cousin who at the time was a designer at Saatchi and Saatchi was kind enough to create the logo and to make my vision become reality. There it was - we had a baby and we knew it was good. We went to market a few weeks later and people took on to the concept immediately and we were very emotional about the whole thing working out - it was quite amazing. We landed our first client and we ran with it.
From our perspective we were solving a marketing problem in an overcrowded industry - we weren't boutique (we had interviewed business owners who felt that SME marketing was too boutique and only 'for the big guys') but we were edgy and modern - on trend. Easily scalable and saleable - if we wanted to franchise. Our branding spoke to everyone and we were happy that we had achieved our goal.
Months later - another business crops up on my Facebook feed and my heart dropped. Recently founded, poor execution, average content - a shadow of our aim to be the best marketing agency for SME's. A sour compliment at best. As a start up we were limited in our finances and were busy growing the business so we let it go. This year things change when my plans became bigger and I seeked legal advice. Now the circus starts.
Now - from a marketing perspective - I'd like to say that when you copy a business' image - your initial proposition is already flawed as you are most likely not solving the problem that they set out to solve. That means an inaccurate key message. Nobody goes very far without a vision and the right systems. Our image is systemised - we have thorough style guides backed up with my vision, we have an understanding of the problem we are solving, our team lives and breathes it (my team will rock up to a dinner at 7.30pm on a Friday night in black and yellow) - now go and reproduce that.
As a young but (fast growing) business we are always planning the next thing - the next step - and now this will be a big unexpected effort, expense and time consuming exercise. Behind the IP that you see around - you have people like me who worked for hours and sometimes to the point of crashing to produce something unique and constantly evolving to be remarkable. Poor effort on the part of those who happily copy the whole thing. If it's a different geographical market etc. - that's a different story.
They say that 'You know you are successful when people start copying you.' - it shouldn't cost us a fortune because others are not capable of coming up with their own business idea.