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Ultimate Guide On How To Safeguard Your Brand From E-Commerce Copycats

business trade mark

Search. Browse. Click. Pay. Collect.  For the consumer, online shopping puts millions of products and their favourite brands from around the world at their fingertips.  Retail therapy has never been faster, easier or more convenient.

Just as e-commerce opens up a world of opportunity for consumers, it’s also a treasure trove for retailers.  However, it is a world fraught with challenges for a retailer – not least the ever-present threat of unscrupulous operators profiting from their hard work and investment and copying their brands.

Incidences of intellectual property (IP) infringement such as the unauthorised use of a logo, copyright material etc are becoming increasingly prevalent, and for some businesses, this can pose a very real threat to their survival.

How can I protect my brand online?

A top priority for any e-commerce operator is to protect, and where possible register, their IP.  The rapid evolution of the global online environment and increasingly sophisticated tools and software means protecting a brand can no longer be left to chance.  Nowadays, your IP can be infringed by users just about anywhere in the world.

Developing a brand’s reputation and gaining a share of the market takes significant effort and resources, and it is imperative that business owners put mechanisms in place to safeguard their investment.  On the flip side, it is also incumbent on the e-commerce operators themselves to put protective measures in place.

In this article, we will explore the various ways of that you can manage your business’s IP which will discourage its misuse, deter copycats from knocking off your brand and establish your legally enforceable rights in the event of an infringement.

Areas that we’ll cover are:

  • Trade mark registration
  • Discouraging the misuse of your IP
  • Monitoring IP rights
  • Reporting infringements

What every business owner should be doing regularly

If you trade online, you need to keep a close watch on your IP to see if and how it is being used by others.  You also need to make sure you aren’t infringing anyone else’s IP.

Be vigilant by doing regular searches of the internet, social media platforms and official databases to identify any potential conflicts. You might even set up a Google Alert so you will be notified when your brand is mentioned online. If you intend applying to register your IP rights, it is imperative to do a detailed search beforehand to ensure availability.  If you intend selling your products under your brand anywhere other than Australia, it is wise to expand your search as widely as possible.  You can DIY the search, but our experience has shown that it’s not always simple or straightforward.  Engaging specialist help from an IP and trade mark professional is recommended.

  1. Registering your IP rights

Your best defence against exploitation by copycats is to register your IP, including registering your brand as a trade mark.

Once a trade mark has been registered for a nominated class (or classes) of goods of services, the owner is recognised as having exclusive ownership of that mark for the goods and services specified.  The trade mark is protected by legally enforceable rights and a trade mark can be registered for things like a logo, slogan, name, colour, smell, sound, element of packaging (or a combination of these) provided that it is a distinctive enough to distinguish the relevant product or service from the similar activities of others.

  1. Discouraging misuse of your IP

Make sure your website has a section with comprehensive terms and conditions for the use of your material.  It can be helpful to include a link to your T&Cs at the footer of each web page to make them more visible to users and easier to access.

You can also display the ® (R) symbol next to your trade mark once registration is completed.  Whereas you can use the ™ (TM) symbol for any trade mark, even if it has not been registered, it is an offence to use the ® (R) symbol unless that mark has been successfully registered.

  1. Monitoring the online space for possible infringements

As mentioned, you need to be vigilant about monitoring the online space for copycats, including social media platforms.  Remember, your registered trade mark will only be protected in the countries you applied in where such countries’ trade marks office approve and register your trade mark.

  1. What to do when you discover someone knocking off your brand?

If your search uncovers a copycat, your first step should be to speak to a specialist in the complex field of trade mark law. There are times where it may seem that someone is copying or infringing but legally speaking they’re not so it is important to be sure of your rights before approaching a perceived copycat. A trade marks attorney can examine your unique circumstances, help you determine the best course of action and institute legal proceedings if necessary.  At MMW Trademark Services, we pride ourselves in affordable trade mark services and will always look for the most viable, practical and cost-effective solution for our clients.

If you have registered rights in the country where the infringement has taken place, it will be easier to enforce your rights.  That said, the infringement may not warrant the substantial costs required for legal proceedings.

As the world of e-commerce has become more sophisticated, the operators of many of the large platforms are now playing a much more active role in preventing IP infringement.  If you find that a seller is copying your trade mark, you should report the situation to the e-commerce operator presuming you have verified the seller is in fact infringing.  They will generally have mechanisms which enable infringers to be shut down, provided you can prove you own exclusive rights to that trade mark.

A last word on safeguarding your brand from e-commerce copycats

The internet offers vast potential for brand success, but it also harbours plenty of risks.  It’s a dynamic environment and it is vital that business owners stay abreast of all elements relating to their intellectual property so that they can safeguard their most valuable assets.

If you are concerned about your copycats eroding your brand reputation or your market share, we welcome you to get in touch with our friendly team at MMW Trademark Services.  Our highly experienced trade marks attorney, Jacqui Pryor, will help you achieve the best outcome for your business, efficiently and cost-effectively.

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