Fast Lane: The rip-off threat for Aussie businesses

Fast Lane: The rip-off threat for Aussie businesses

You’ve put blood, sweat and tears into creating your business, establishing a brand and building a reputation in the marketplace.

So what happens when another business piggybacks off your hard work and blatantly copies your idea and your execution?

It’s common practice to protect your intellectual property in Australia but many businesses fail to invest in trademark and intellectual property protection overseas.

Australian steak restaurant chain The Meat & Wine Co thought it had taken all necessary precautions after registering trademarks in Australia for its name and logo.

But that didn’t stop an imitator opening up in Kuala Lumpur last month using the same name, logo and signage as the The Meat & Wine Co.

Now the steak house is embroiled in a legal battle across countries and jurisdictions to try to stop the damage to its reputation.

SmartCompany is aware other Australian businesses are also victims of having their intellectual property ripped off in Asia.

Intellectual property lawyer Richard Hoad, a partner at Clayton Utz, says businesses need to be alert to the copycats.

While there is a cost to registering a trade mark in multiple jurisdictions, you need to carefully consider how your business might one day grow and the damage that can be done to your brand by imitators.

“The cost of registering a trade mark, even in multiple countries, is totally insignificant compared to the very substantial sums involved in fighting to protect your brand through the courts,” Hoad says.

“It really is a case of ‘a stitch in time saves nine!’”

Stephen Stern, partner at law firm Corrs Chambers Westgarth, says many of his clients have suffered at the hands of “interlopers” in Asia including Treasury Wine Estates which is the owner of the iconic Penfolds brand.

“It happens all the time it is absolutely day to day business in Asia, particularly 99% of it in China,” he says.

READ MORE: How to stick it to brand thieves and protect your intellectual property

It’s a difficult situation for small businesses, which already find it an expensive enough exercise protecting their intellectual property in Australia.

Big businesses may think nothing of filing trade mark applications in jurisdictions around the world, but for a business short on cash it’s a different issue.

The problem is that failing to do so can leave you at the mercy of rip-off merchants.

This can then lead to legal battles that are costly in terms of time and money.

As Steven Kastoun, chief financial officer of The Meat & Wine Co says, “what is frustrating is that it is an expensive process, the only people benefiting from this are the lawyers.”

If you are aware of any Australian businesses which are being ripped off in Asia or if your business has encountered this problem please get in touch on [email protected].

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