Case study: Smiffys on protecting and enforcing rights in IP


When building your business, a way to ensure you are developing a brand which can help enforce a reputation is to create and protect intellectual property.

Previously the power of IP was relatively unknown to businesses, but now its importance is seeping into the foundations of British industry and is one of the most important rights businesses hold. It is surprising how much impact good IP can have on a business.

Commenting on the benefits of intellectual property and giving tips on how other businesses can use it to its best ability, R H Smith & Sons better known as those behind the fancy dress brand Smiffys has explained their development as a business in a case study for the UK Intellectual Property Office.

From starting as a wigmaker for the NHS and the courts, Smiffys over the last 35 years has become the leading fancy dress suppliers in the UK. In addition, the company operates on a global scale with offices in China, Australia and the USA.

With this level of exposure, it is essential to protect their well established reputation.

To do this and prevent others from using their name and counterfeiting their products, the company have complied a dedicated in-house IP team as well as benefiting from external experts when initially developing their protection. Then main areas of IP in which they have protected their rights are trade marks for logos, design rights for their costume designs and copyright protection in relation to their website.

The push to get savvy about intellectual property came from the emerge of counterfeiting. Head of Intellectual Property Enforcement, Sam Lucas, explains that “the growth of online retailing and the ability of third parties to copy and take advantage of established brands was a key driver in our desire to protect our IP.”

“We’ve seen a significant rise in people selling non-Smiffys products. People using our brand and imagery as well as those copying our costume designs. We see these actions as a direct attack on our business as it amounts to the theft of our intellectual creations.”

By protecting their IP, Smiffys has a monopoly over their creations for a good number of years. By registering any IP rights you can, or being active in protecting those you cannot, you have made the best steps you can to protect yourselves against any damaging third party unauthorised use.

There are some keys ways to tackle infringement which Sam explains as including “the use of specialist software to review websites and identify infringing content. We also buy samples from sellers that we aren’t familiar with and look at online listings closely. It’s sometimes clear to us that what’s being supplied isn’t a genuine Smiffys product but not to the customer.”

Not only can counterfeiting products be detrimental to your business, they can also be detrimental to your customers. Unauthorised products can come from any source and can contain any product that may be harmful to humans or the environment. This harm can be reflected on your business brand putting future customers off.

The one piece of advice given by Smiffys would be to develop an action plan of what IP you would like and what would be suitable to your business. Also you need to ensure it will have the best effect at protecting the brand you have worked hard to create. To ensure this, getting the help of experts is crucial as they can part with their years of experience to give you the best chance at creating the best IP profile you can.

While it is nearly impossible to completely eradicate counterfeiters and infringers of your IP from your industry, the more protection you have and the clearest warning you give to those who want to attack your brand, the best chance you have at making the most of intellectual property protection and building a lasting business.

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