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A simple guide to brand protection and your online presence

By Will Stevens - October 24, 2022

You work hard building your business and your brand, so it makes sense that you’d want to do as much as you can to protect them.

In this guide, we’ll be looking at brand protection and how you can use it to safeguard important elements of your business.

What is brand protection?

Brand protection is any step a business takes to protect its intellectual property from people who seek to use it in an unauthorised manner.

The aim of brand protection is to avoid loss of revenue and reputation caused by such misuse. For example, if someone buys a counterfeit product, the legitimate brand will suffer loss of revenue, because they missed out on a sale, and loss of reputation, if the purchaser thinks the shoddy product is representative of the legitimate brand’s offering.

How can your business protect its brand?

Large businesses often spend huge amounts of time and money on brand protection. Smaller businesses usually don’t have to put as many resources into brand protection, but it still pays to be proactive and take action where needed.

Here are five things you can do to help protect your brand.

  1. Guard against imitation websites
  2. Guard against social media imitation
  3. Guard against copyright piracy and counterfeiting
  4. Guard against misuse of trademarked material and trademark squatting
  5. Guard against patent theft
  6. Which brand protection steps should smaller businesses prioritise?

1.      Guard against imitation websites

Imitation websites can be used to take business from you and to harm your reputation.

You’ll need to guard against:

Cybersquatting – where someone buys a domain name that matches your business name and sets up a website.

Typosquatting – where someone buys a domain name that is similar to yours so that anyone who mistypes your domain ends up on their website instead of yours.

Imitation websites – Sometimes, the bad guys will duplicate your website and try to trick people into thinking theirs is the real one. They may combine this tactic with cybersquatting or typosquating, and they could also use it as part of a phishing scam.

To guard against cybersquatting, you should buy domain names that relate to your business and its intellectual property (IP) as soon as possible.

If someone buys a domain name based on your IP and uses it to impersonate your business, you should be able to acquire the domain name through a dispute process, but this can take a long time and you’re not guaranteed to get it back. Buying relevant domains as soon as possible will help protect you.

To protect your brand, you should consider buying your domain across multiple domain extensions. For example, if you were the owner of example.co.uk, but not example.com someone else could buy the .com version of the site and your potential customers may end up there instead.

To guard against typosquatting, you need to think about possible mistakes people might make when typing your domain name and purchase those domains as well. For example, 123reg.co.uk redirects to 123-reg.co.uk.

Once you’ve identified the domains you need to help protect your brand and purchased them, you can set them up to redirect to your main domain name.

Guarding against imitation websites can be trickier. However, if you take steps to guard against cybersquatting and typosquatting, the impact of any imitation websites will be reduced.

You should also consider setting up a dedicated email address customers can use to report phishing emails, as this will help you identify any scams using imitation websites.

If you spot a malicious imitation site, you’ll need to identify who is hosting the website and contact the hosting provider to get it taken down.

2.      Guard against social media imitation

Most people now expect to be able to interact with a business via social media and this means you need to take social platforms into account when it comes to brand protection.

You’ll need to guard against people creating social media accounts which pretend to be your business. These fake accounts may be set up to run scams and sell counterfeit goods, or they may be created to damage your business’s reputation.

The easiest way to start protecting your brand on social media is by grabbing as many relevant social media handles as you can, as soon as you can. This will stop other people registering them. You should strongly consider doing this even if you have no current plans to use a particular social platform for marketing.

3.      Guard against copyright piracy and counterfeiting

Copyright piracy and counterfeiting can range from selling knockoff versions of your products to stealing content and images from your website.

You should take steps to identify any breaches of your copyrighted material. At the very least, you should consider setting up regular keyword searches for terms relating to your brand and products using Google Alerts. You’ll then be notified when one of these keywords is detected in new web content, allowing you to check for potential breaches of copyright.

You can also use reverse image search tools to check for copyright violations.

Copyright law can be complex, so you may want to seek appropriate advice to help you protect your rights.

4.      Guard against misuse of trademarked material and trademark squatting

As we’ve seen, imitation is one of the biggest brand protection issues. Trademarks can help you guard against imitation as they offer protection for the most important elements of your brand’s identity, such as logos, names and designs.

Trademarking will increase the legal recourse you have against people who seek to damage your brand. However, they only have value if you enforce them.

You may also need to guard against trademark squatting, which is when your trademarks are registered by someone else in overseas markets. This is more likely to be an issue for bigger firms, but if you have trademarks, it’s something you should keep an eye on.

Setting up keyword searches for your trademarked terms can help you spot violations. Although you may want to consider using a service that specialises in trademark protection.

5.      Guard against patent theft

If you’re selling an innovative product, then you’ve probably protected your innovations with patents. However, those patents are worthless if you don’t take steps to enforce them. As with copyright piracy, counterfeiting and trademark infringement, you should consider setting up keyword searches and using reverse image searches to help you identify potential patent violations.

You should also strongly consider seeking advice and professional assistance to help you protect your patents.

Which brand protection steps should smaller businesses prioritise?

Brand protection can seem overwhelming, especially if you’re doing everything yourself. For that reason, it makes sense to prioritise the steps that will have the biggest impact for your business.

Start by purchasing domain names to protect your brand. This should be quick, easy and, usually, inexpensive. (If your business uses a premium domain, it may be more expensive.) You can search for domain names with 123 Reg here.

Taking this step early can help protect against future problems and could save you time and effort further down the line.

You should also think about how you can protect your intellectual property, including your website content, your brand name, logos and any trademarks you may have.

A quick and easy way to do this is by creating Google Alerts for your business’s name and, if applicable, your products. Once you’ve done this, you’ll be notified when Google detects a new mention of any your chosen terms on the web. This can help you identify any malicious actors and will also help you keep an eye on what’s being said about your business.

It’s not guaranteed to pick up every mention, and most mentions it does pick up probably won’t be a brand protection issue. However, because it’s free it’s a great way for solo business owners to monitor things.

You may want to consider using a specialist brand protection service, especially if you have trademarks and patents. Usually, these services will actively monitor for brand protection issues and act whenever an issue is found. This can be really worthwhile if your business is at higher risk of brand protection issues.

Summing up

Brand protection is something that businesses of all sizes need to take into account. Simple steps like buying domain names to protect against cybersquatting and typosquatting, along with setting up relevant Google Alerts can help you deal with any brand protection issues the average small business is likely to face.

If you need to take further action, consider hiring a specialist firm to handle brand protection for you.