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If you were a carpenter and someone stole your only hammer what would you do?
Most likely, you would chase down the offending party and demand your hammer back. If he failed to give your hammer back, you would look for a legal remedy, in order to continue to make a living.
This is a simple concept to grasp.
Every couple of months (and with a troubling increase in frequency) someone violates my intellectual property rights. They copy text from my website or material, they use my trademark, or they blatantly deliver an identical presentation to one I have delivered in the past.
Many of these people are lawyers turned marketing gurus.
I go to great lengths to find these people. I pay for a service that monitors my intellectual property. I work with two attorneys who not only protect my intellectual property, they help me maintain and enforce my rights.
Why go to these lengths?
First: My business consists of two elements: 1) Goodwill – My relationships with clients, vendors and referral sources and 2) Intellectual property – Work products I create and sell to clients and license to others. I like my business and I want to keep growing it.
Second: Most people lack creativity. My intellectual property is a byproduct of my competitive advantage – my creativity. If you steal my intellectual property you are weakening my competitive advantage.
Third: If I do not enforce my rights to my intellectual property it weakens its value.
Finally: I have an intense dislike for people who compete with me. The best case for me would be for my competitors to go into other lines of business. Absent that happening, I’m always looking for ways to crush them. Late at night, when they sleep, I am on a plane traveling to meet with their best client. When they are sitting on the couch watching reruns of Hogan’s Heroes, I’m coming up with a new consulting methodology that will change the rules of the game.
So when I have an opportunity to legally smack down a competitor, I take it.
Intellectual property is central to my ability to make a living. It is, in essence my hammer. But it is more than that. It is as if the hammer had special and unique powers. Possession of that hammer gives me a competitive advantage. I have every right to keep that hammer for exclusive use in my business or license it to anyone I see fit. When someone takes it, I go after them.
What does this have to do with you?
Attorneys use forms, documents, visual identities and phrases in their practice and in their legal marketing. Often they think nothing of “borrowing” a form they have seen a competitor using. They do not hesitate to “adopt” a phrase from someone else or use a cute derivation from a successful competitor.
Many times this is done with a lack of concern for the rights of the creator of the intellectual property.
Don’t think this applies to you?
What music do you have on your telephone system when you put someone on hold?
How about the photos on your website?
Do you use a fictitious name for your law firm?
How about your tagline or logo on your website or business cards?
The bottom line: Be creative. Create your own forms. Do your own branding. Don’t tread on the intellectual property rights of others.