Many businesses face the threat of copycats. Therefore, it is essential to be proactive and protect your business as much as possible.

State of Escape, the business behind the popular perforated neoprene tote bags, has had its fair share of copycats. In a Q&A below, with Anita Brown of Phillips Ormonde Fitzpatrick, their business’ co-founder, Desley Maidment, shares her thoughts and battles with copycats in the fashion industry.

If you’d like advice on protecting, commercialising or enforcing your IP rights, get in touch with Phillips Ormonde Fitzpatrick.

Q. What challenges does your business face from copycats?

We’ve faced a lot of initial confusion in the marketplace of what products are actually ours and what are knock offs. There’s an assumption that all neoprene bags are the same or similar – i.e. how they are made and what they are made of.

One of the biggest issues come from the manufacturers in China who have essentially become product development houses. They scour the internet for the latest hot items to create imitation products to be sold via e-commerce sites. Essentially, they then brand these items for companies/brands to claim as their own – a relatively simple, cheap and very enticing process for copycats.

Q. What strategies has your business adopted to try to combat copycats?

We use customer education and communication via our own social channels and retail partners to ensure customers are aware that there are imitation products in the marketplace. We have found that being consistently engaged and connected to our loyal brand supporters, as well as consistently evolving the brand via fresh designs, to be successful. We’ve also engaged a law firm to help us with IP issues.

Q. Has it been worthwhile pursuing IP protection especially in the form of registered designs?

To date we are still determining this, but I would say in all yes. I think it’s important and in the long term is valuable – even as a deterrent to the masses.

Q. What are the difficulties in trying to stop copycats either through the legal system or otherwise?

In China and some other Asian nations, there is cheap labour with manufacturing expertise in the area of copying. Whilst we’ve had some success, there’s very poor protection against this type of thing within the Australian system.

Q. What changes (if any) would you like to see implemented to better protect designers from copycats?

I think we need similar methods to Europe – they celebrate and protect designers from day one on their designs. They believe this is the key to the whole industry and its survival. It’s imperative for innovation and creative individuals to flourish. It fosters uniqueness. A simpler option is paramount – at the moment there’s too much red tape, it’s a slow process and it’s costly, especially if you were to register every design every season – crazy!

Q. What are the lessons you’ve learnt that you’d like to pass on to other designers?

Brand protection is key for the long term, it essentially needs to be factored into your strategy and investment. Loyal brand supporters are also key in fighting these copycats. Designers should also continue to create original truly unique designs that are worth registering and protecting. Also, tell your story – the copycats never have a real story.

Find one individual in the business (or who can represent the business) who can manage the legal issues for you as it can be a huge distraction if too many of the individuals including founders/owners are involved. Things need to keep moving forward but have only one person tasked to manage and liaise with your legal team.

Tackling copycats and protecting your brand and products is an emotional process, requiring patience, perseverance and belief!