Is imitation really the sincerest form of flattery?

Is imitation really the sincerest form of flattery?

In a world where many retailers rely heavily on social media influencers to sell their products, one might be forgiven for thinking that ‘imitation’ is the new ‘inspiration’ in business, and there are certainly plenty of business profiting from the fact that consumers want to copy the style of someone they admire.  But that is of little comfort to business owners that have spent considerable time and money building their original ideas in to unique selling propositions (USPs), only to have them copied by unscrupulous and, quite frankly, lazy business owners seeking to grasp part of the market share without having to put in the physical, financial and emotional effort you have. So, in business, is imitation really the sincerest form of flattery? Or the worst kind of laziness? Or just plain theft?

Where there’s a USP there is (almost) always IP

What is (or are) your USP(s)?  Why do your customers come to you and not your competitors?  I always say, where there’s a USP, there is almost always intellectual property (IP), but it can only work to protect your USP and add value to your business if you know it’s there and how to carefully preserve it.

What is IP?

In a nutshell, an IP right gives its owner the right to stop a third party from doing (or selling) whatever is covered by the right.  Some IP rights are obtained by some registration process, others arise automatically.  Some of the more familiar IP rights include patents (for technical innovation), registered trade marks (for brand names and logos), and copyright (for written, audio/visual and artistic works, as well as software code).  But there are many more.  For example, registered designs (for aesthetic innovation), unregistered design right, database rights, semiconductor topography rights (for IC layouts), trade secrets, know-how, and even the goodwill and reputation associated with your brand are IP rights of a sort.

You don’t necessarily need to protect your USP with a single IP right

Protect your USPs from imitation

Even if your unique business offering isn’t protectable as a whole by a single IP right, individual elements of it may be protectable by one or more IP rights (registrable or not), with the result that a third party may be able to copy a little bit of your USP, but they can never quite be you because there will be bits they can’t copy, because infringing someone else’s IP rights is, essentially, theft; and, whilst it is not usually deemed a criminal offence (except in specific circumstances), it can be a very costly sanction for lazy business owners seeking to profit from someone else’s innovative ideas. So your IP rights can be crucial to helping you to protect your market share.

So is imitation really the sincerest form of flattery?

It might (sometimes) be flattering to have your USP copied by others, but in our experience it is also irritating and can make a significant dent in your market share (and even damage your brand).

Seek Advice

If you have a unique business offering, and you want to try and prevent a third party from copying it, seek advice on what IP rights you have (or could have) and how to carefully preserve them so that, if the worst happens and somebody copies you, you have something in your armoury to stop them…or, better still, prevent them from getting started in the first place. You can make a start on your own by trying the UK Intellectual Property Office’s free IP healthcheck here:, but…

if you need any further advice on using IP to protect your USP, please book a free consultation by emailing or visit our website at

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