They can turn your unique, successful business into one of many, diluting your market share and your profit margin, forcing you to compete for business that at one point came easily.
With the power of the internet and the easy spread of knowledge, more and more entrepreneurs are having their ideas stolen by copycats.
What can they do?
A business, at its very essence, is a collection of intellectual property rights that, together, make money. For this reason, a entrepreneur faced with copycat businesses is primarily limited to enforcing his intellectual property rights.
While a business is entitled to enforce copyrights and trademarks without registering, a product, process, or method may not be protected unless actually patented.
What this means is that, when faced with copycat businesses, it is imperative to determine whether your business idea or your product is patentable. If so, you need to apply for a patent if you wish to have a chance at protecting the essence of your business.
If you have no patent rights or options to speak of, you are limited to copyright, trademark, and potentially unfair competition law.
Certainly take the time to enforce your copyrights and trademarks, particularly if you think that confusion may arise, or if there are marked similarities in advertising and design. Local unfair competition laws may also protect you from other actions and encroachments, such as misappropriation and contractual interference.
Because of these unique and often complicated rights, protecting yourself from copycat businesses really requires the help of an attorney who can assess the facts at hand.