Productivity

How to protect your business ideas from being copied

- May 20, 2019 4 MIN READ

Are you worried about people stealing your business idea, copying your website or products? Maybe someone has already tried.  The internet makes your business visible and open to the world at large. It also means that it may attract people who may try to copy your hard work and great business idea.

There is no foolproof way to stop others from copying your business idea or website content but you can protect your business from the most likely IP thieves.

Who are your potential thieves?

1. Visitors to your website

There is no absolute way to stop someone from coming to your site and copying an article, image or content. This becomes even more difficult if they are located overseas.

What can you do:

Ensure you have a clear copyright notice on your website, which may dissuade some visitors from copying your images and/or content and serve as a warning. Sometimes people mistakenly believe if there is no notice, it is free to use. If you have specific images you want to protect, which may be on a photographer or designer’s site, you could put a watermark or disable the right click of images on your website which enables download and copying.

You should also register your business name and logo with IP Australia. You may have registered your business name or company name with ASIC but ASIC does not know what type of business you are doing under this name so it does not protect you from someone else using the same name and offering the same products or services.

You can only protect this from happening by registering your business name and logo with IP Australia. Registration of your trademark will protect the specific goods or services that you offer under your business name and provide you with a registered right to claim against other businesses that may try to set up similar businesses with similar product or service offerings.

2. Customers who buy

If you are selling digital products such as e-books, e-courses, templates, customers may try to share, on-sell or use your products in their own business as part of their service offering. They may even try to set up their own business using your products that they purchased from you.

Physical products are trickier to protect from being replicated but they may copy your design.

What can you do:

You should include a copyright notice when your customers download your digital product. You also need to have clear licensing terms in your terms and conditions and include these terms when they download the product. They can be a shorter version of your full license rights but should outline the terms of use and the type of licensing permitted.

Products are trickier to protect. If, for example, you have created a perfume, cosmetic, supplement, your intellectual property protection may be the best way to protect your creation.

You can also consider patenting your product but this is an expensive option. Depending on the product, it may be better to stick to trademark registration of the logo and ensuring you are first in the market with your product. It’s always a good idea, if you have a great invention, to check with a lawyer to be sure.

3. Contractors who provide you with project services

Normally contractors are providing you with a specific service for a particular part of your business or a project like a website developer, copywriter or SEO specialist.  Whatever they may be working on, their access to your business and assets should be limited to the services they are providing.

You do not want them to end up resell your business processes, or the work they have provided that was specific to your business to another client or competitor. You also do not want to find they have taken your customer list to market their services to your own customers.

What you can do:

It is important that your contractor agreement states that you will have clear ownership of anything the contractor produces and that they cannot sell it to someone else or use it themselves. Your agreement should also have a confidentiality clause to protect your discussions, business ideas and assets as well as terms to prevent the contractor from taking your business processes and intellectual property to share with a competitor.

So you need to make it clear in your terms that at the end of the project, you own the final product or work on payment and it cannot be reused for another client.

4. Employees or contractors working in your business

Employees and contractors in your business usually have access to a large part of your intellectual property and assets. Your processes, customer lists, templates, product marketing and other valuable assets are often shared in order for the employee to do their job.  There is a risk that they use your business assets to set up their own business in competition or to go and work with a competitor and share your customer lists, templates or processes with them.

What you can do:

Have a very clear contract/agreement with all your employees that includes a confidentiality clause, and a non-compete clause to prevent them from setting up a similar business. Your contract should also make it clear that any work they complete is owned by you, and that prevents them from contact customers outside of your business employment/work. The terms should also make it clear that they are not permitted to replicate or use any of your templates, tools, materials, or business practices outside your business.

Imitation is not always the best form of flattery. People will, despite your best efforts, try to copy your idea, your business, your services, your website.

At least you will have an easier time proving any breach of your copyright or enforcing your rights when you can point to clear agreement terms that they agreed to, that prevent this.