by Jackie Burke | Featured Contributor
This month was one of the most challenging and exciting months I have had as an entrepreneur. I had a fast class in business law and realized that I had been burying my head in the sand for too long.
Here’s the backstory: I launched my company, Tini Lux, in November 2017. My company is the first company to sell fashion earrings designed specifically for people with sensitive ears and metal allergies. It has truly defined a new category in jewelry. Prior to Tini Lux, earrings were given labels like “hypoallergenic” and “nickel free,” both of which were essentially meaningless because there are many reasons why earrings can reactions. Now, Tini Lux is a go-to, trusted source for people who want to be 100% sure that their earrings will not cause painful reactions.
When I launched my business, many well meaning people (without business experience) told me that if I could not patent my idea then I would never be successful. I believe this myth comes from watching Shark Tank, where the Sharks regularly ask the entrepreneurs if they have a patent on their invention.
My brand, while innovative and category defining, was not patent-able. That did not deter me though. I could list thousands of brands that do not have patents that are still very, very successful. I knew that the challenge was to build a brand and a destination that people could trust, and if I could do that then the success would follow (and it has).
What I did not realize though, is that although a patent might not be necessary for my company, there were other legal considerations that I was ignoring, like copyrights and trademarks. This all came to a head when I found out that my exact designs were being sold by another designer at Nordstrom! When I found this out I felt frustrated, disgusted, and violated. I am an avid follower of Diet Prada and The Fashion Law had read many articles about designers being ripped off, but I never expected it to happen to me.
I did my research and learned that from a legal standpoint what happened was a copyright infringement. Jewelry designs are considered artwork under US copyright law. A person becomes the owner of the copyright of original artwork the moment it is published. So, since my designs were original, I technically owned the copyright and both Nordstrom and this other designer were infringing on it. Although I did own the copyright technically, in order to bring legal action against these other companies, I needed to officially register my copyright.
I immediately registered my copyrights for all of my original designs and trademarked my business name for my category of goods (jewelry). I contacted both companies with cease-and-desist letters and fortunately my copyrighted designs were removed immediately. Although it is frustrating that they profited off of my work, I now feel more prepared and am more motivated to continue my efforts.
Now, on top of being a legally registered LLC, I have a registered trademark and copyrights for my original work. Hopefully this will deter other potential copy-cats, but if something like this happens in the future I will now be ready for action. I am also choosing to be flattered by another designed copying me rather than be angry. After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.