Dealing with numerous copycats (on a budget)

Handling one copycat is a challenge, but dog supplement company Goodboy has experienced several direct rip-offs since it launched in December 2019.
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Kari Sapp first became aware of a copycat six months after launch, when a friend drew her attention to the website of a UK-based company. ‘It was weird,’ says Kari, co-founder and CEO of Goodboy, an Atlanta-based company offering personalised dog supplements. ‘It was a total direct replication, word-for-word copy, the same format. It was so aggressive – I couldn’t believe it.’ She asked a lawyer to write a cease and desist letter demanding the website be changed within 72 hours. The company complied, but this was only the beginning.

‘2020 has just been a domino effect of people doing the same thing. It’s not that we’re mad that people are doing essentially the same thing. It’s more the direct replication,’ says Kari. Goodboy had already applied for a trademark early on, but patenting the formulas has been trickier – each formula patent will cost about $50,000, which Kari says Goodboy will attend to when resources permit. In the meantime, Goodboy has made an arrangement with its manufacturer so it won’t disclose the formulas to other companies.

‘Physical products that you can put protection on, 100% go forward with all that, but the creative side of it can get a bit blurred,’ says Kari. Having faced the issue multiple times, Kari has developed a stepped approach. The first step is reaching out to the copycat on social media. She then sends a cease and desist letter. ‘You can pay for it once and repurpose it for the rest of the copycats,’ says Kari. Goodboy spent $3,000 on its first batch of letters, and another $2,000 for consultation on other cases. 

Kari has recently tried a third step – going public. ‘We’re standing up and trying to be crafty and scrappy with how we defend ourselves, while not putting in a lot of resources,’ says Kari. Even amid the fierce competition and overlap in the field, Goodboy is still growing rapidly, notching up 200% quarter-over-quarter revenue growth throughout 2020. ‘Five or 10 years down the road it could be 100% a different story, when we’re more established and more financially able.

How to pursue a copycat

Here are five ways to confront the culprit.

1. Call the infringer.

2. Send a cease and desist letter – this is quick, cheap-ish and often effective.

3. Contact the marketplace – if you have a patent, they’ll delist the infringer.

4. Call them out publicly – it’s free and can be effective.

5. Pursue them in court – though costs may outweigh compensation.

This article was first published in Courier issue 39, February/March 2021. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

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