As a startup founder or small business owner working with a tight budget, it is very easy to forget you need to protect your intellectual property and brand in general.

From juggling production, surviving data costs to marketing, design, branding, distribution, logistics and customer relations, the business side of things can be quite a handful and it often takes a major event in the form of unauthorized use of your content or some other form of IP theft to serve as a wakeup call. Wholescale protection in the form of trademark or patent registration might be out of your means at present but that does not mean that you are left defenseless.

This article offers brand protection hacks and practical tips to keep your creative difference exclusive.

  • Keep Receipts  

Without any form of formal registration, any dispute over your brand; its logo, website content, product and packaging will most likely come down to a question of use.

To establish that you have been using these key components exclusively for a while you would need some form of documentation that helps you prove this. 

From mails to other forms of correspondence, social media timelines and production details, anything and everything that helps you craft a legitimate claim is welcome.

  •  Check your circle 

Most startups and small businesses are often undermined by the very people that make them up. From co-founders to team members, the dynamics of business relationships are often unpredictable and it is easy for a core member of your team to leave and become a competitor.

Most times, when this happens, they utilize your content, strategy and technology in building a business that now competes with yours and eats into your market share. While most founders are not eager to upset the balance of their team by introducing some form of formal arrangement, the consequences for failing to do so, make it non-negotiable.

If you are worried about team members or employees utilizing information gained by virtue of their position, then you should have them sign a non- disclosure agreement which prevents them from disclosing or acting upon information you deem confidential. 

  • Engage 

If you find out that somebody is stealing your brand identity; using your posts without giving you credit, using your logo,  product pictures or pretending to be a related brand or affiliate then it is time to engage! 

Send a polite mail stating your brand’s interest, showing evidence of your prior use and ownership (remember your receipts) and request that they refrain from their unauthorized use or seek proper permission. 

Most times, the matter is easily resolved at this point and the individual on the other side will offer an apology or work out a deal, other times, it can go south.

  • Go public 

If the offending party remains insistent and continues to use your brand identity, then you may be left with no other option than to go public. With your facts, evidence of prior use and the conversation between parties, you can then go on your preferred medium whether it is Instagram or LinkedIn where you have your customer base and address the issue. 

The goal of going public is to clear up any confusion in your customer base and disassociate yourself from the other party as well as exhibit their unoriginality and theft of intellectual property.

  • Level up – Get protection!

While self-help might seem like fun with you exchanging quick fire dms and releasing statements, it does not offer you enough protection. 

As your brand scales up and achieves growth in revenue and customer base, then you should make getting a lawyer in your corner a priority.

A lawyer will help you navigate the waters of Intellectual property and brand protection, deciding if you need to register a trademark to cover your name, logo or even symbol or a patent if you have an invention or process that needs to be protected. 

With these practical tips, a tight budget is no longer an excuse for not putting in place a structure for brand protection, so get to work!


Solomon Nzere is the Head of Innovation at Legal Pages Africa.

He is interested in intellectual property law, corporate communications and social entrepreneurship.