Let me make something clear: as an entrepreneur, I LOVE competition.
It’s part of what drives me, and it’s literally what drives me when I’m racing a car on a track (one of my favorite hobbies).
Competition ignites my passion for my own company. Like most entrepreneurs, I put my heart into my work to step up my game, to innovate and to win. Competitors require you to be sharper.
Now, let me make something equally clear: knock-offs and copycats are NOT competitors… they’re cheaters.
- A competitor tries to beat you at your OWN game, or creates a totally new game. They don’t undermine the rules of fair play in the middle of a match.
- A competitor tries to overcome your greatness by being even BETTER than you. Innovation is their tool, not imitation.
- A competitor puts a NEW twist on what exists. This ADDS to the conversation, it doesn’t take away from it.
- A competitor inspires YOU to be even better than they are. They provide obstacles that challenge your ability to problem solve and improve.
The only thing copycats inspire are calls to your lawyer, and maybe a LinkedIn article.
Imagine speaking with a group of people, and someone in the group starts repeating what you say immediately after you say it. They don’t get all the words exactly right, but it’s an almost verbatim repetition of what has already been said. They may get some attention for it, but this repetition does not and cannot move the conversation forward.
Innovation – and competition – are about advancement, and moving the conversation, the products and the industry forward… not repeating what was just done.
I’ve Been Knocked Off Many Times… Even Recently
My company SCOTTeVEST is a line of clothing with tons of hidden pockets for carrying gadgets, travel gear and everyday items. We are so gadget-oriented that we incorporate a patented system (our PAN: Personal Area Network) to route headphone and power wires through the lining of the clothing, so they stay organized. It’s a cool product, and it’s evolved over the past 15 years to include many styles of vests, jackets, pants, shirts and even underwear. Some products have 42 pockets, and most have about two dozen pockets.
I did not invent pockets, but I perfected them.
After 15 years of thinking about pockets, engineering pockets, testing pockets and improving pockets with every garment, I can say that with confidence. No one else has put as much time, energy, thought and money into the design of pockets as my team and I have. Period.
Likewise, due to the complexity and highly specific design of my products (which contain 100+ individual pieces and parts to construct), there is no way to accidentally create something similar to my products.
The placement of the pockets is key to making our clothing function as intended, and we go to great lengths to ensure the pockets don’t overlap, that they distribute the weight evenly across your shoulders, etc. It’s not a matter of “this blue dress coincidentally looks like that blue dress.” If there is a product with pockets like ours, intentional choices were made to make it that way.
The first time I saw a knock-off of my flagship product a few years ago (The Travel Vest), I was confused. It looked like my product, but something was off. The material wasn’t quite right, the zippers were low quality. It looked like it could have been a first prototype of one of our vests from a new factory… a factory that we would stop working with immediately.
Then, I looked closer. They looked like my pockets on the inside, which are very distinctly laid out. They included the icons that we sew onto our garments as a reference for the intended purpose of each pocket. This “other” vest even included some interior elements and features that we HATED and planned to remove on our next version of the product. 25 distinct points of similarity. Yes, twenty-five.
In every way except the quality and the brand name on the vest, it looked exactly like ours, inside and out. I was livid. My staff was livid.
We are not some nameless, faceless company that churns out widgets. We’re emotionally invested in our products – our ART – and someone just slapped our artwork on a copier, ran off some low-quality reproductions, and passed them off as their own.
It stung, and it was pretty astonishing, too. But they were not the only one to copy us to this degree. Here’s a video I made about a week ago about a completely different brand – EX OFFICIO – that knocked us off, and how they did it:
As you can tell, I’m not afraid to name names, though I am reluctant to give them traffic.
The worst part for me is that this latest knockoff is from a brand that I actually respect(ed). As I show in the video, the interior elements are very specifically similar to the SCOTTeVEST… including the pocket icons. That could not possibly happen accidentally.
It’s not even an improvement on my products: the fit of the jacket and the function of the pockets don’t work well, either. This product – in clearest terms – is a bad copy.
If you want to imitate my products, at least raise the bar when you do it.
Aren’t There Laws About This?
When I was on Shark Tank, I got into a heated… um, “exchange”… with Mark Cuban regarding patent rights, patent trolls and the validity of the US Patent system.
As a business owner with a unique product with patented elements, I believe wholeheartedly that patents and patent enforcement are one of the foundations of American business. As a former lawyer, I understand patents and intellectual property, too.
Cuban does not; quite the opposite.
On Shark Tank, when I explained my patent for the Personal Area Network – a patent that has been challenged, passed re-examination AND been re-issued – he said, “That is ridiculous! That is just ridiculous! That’s just common sense!… that’s what’s killing this country… dumbass patents!”
Clearly, we’re not on the same page, and a few times since the airing of my episode of Shark Tank, he started some Twitter battles with me, primarily on the topic of patents.
My main point of contention with Mark Cuban surrounds a company based in the UK called AyeGear. Remember that first knockoff I mentioned above with the side-by-side photos? That’s them. They blatantly – and unapologetically – knocked off SCOTTeVEST products and still do. And I mean blatantly.
After my initial confusion, I knew that I had to sue them, especially after I found out that the owner of the UK company had bought one of OUR vests months before his came out. It copied every “trade dress” detail of our vests (the unique combination of elements that go into what it looks like) and it also violated our patent. They were going to get nailed.
It became even more of an emotional hit when I read all the language on their site about how much time they spent developing the concept.
Even if your first exposure to me is right now, reading this article, you can tell that I’m a sharer. Perhaps an oversharer (maybe the video was a clue). I don’t have filters, and I’m very active in social media, so I posted about my struggles with this UK knockoff online… and that’s when Mark Cuban jumped in again.
He literally and in a public forum (Twitter) offered to pay the offending company’s legal fees against me. I’m not making this up; see the exchange here. I’m convinced it’s what put their company on the map.
Did it come to lawsuits? Yes and no. There’s an injunction against the UK company from selling any infringing garments in the US… but I know for a fact they do it anyway.
I’ve sent cease and desists. I’ve spent more on UK lawyers than they make in a year on their knockoff products. But going after copycats is much more difficult when crossing borders, even between the US and UK. In many ways, going after international knockoffs is an uphill battle.
To Beat Knockoffs, Point Out the Differences
We set up a page on my site to point out the differences between the UK vests and mine.
I created that video to point out the differences between the brand that I am an “EX”-fan of, and my products.
This tactic is what allows me to fight them on brand strength, fight them on quality and fight them from a position of “doing what’s right.” I will take their knock-offs and point them out publicly because I believe the market will determine whether a shameless lack of originality is a quality they want to encourage with their dollars, or discourage by taking their business to the innovators. Customers will do what they think is right as long as they know the situation, so I make it my business to publicly call out when my products are shamelessly – and poorly – copied.
It’s not all bad, though. Some brands will also do “what is right” when it comes to patent infringement.
I have licensed my patented system to The North Face, Nautica, Polo Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Under Armour and many other major brands. When I brought my patent to their attention, they knew I was correct, and we were happy to come to an agreement that respected both my Intellectual Property AND their desire to create and sell the best products they can. That’s how patents and IP rights work in the US. Our economy is based on this system, and I’m happy to say that there are still companies large and small who respect this system and continue to benefit from it.
So what comes next for the knockoffs? For the most part, I’m just going to ignore them for the time being, and let them get tangled in their own lack of creativity and ethics. If they (or anyone) wants to raise the bar – to COMPETE with me and try to improve on my concepts – bring it!
That’s how we all stay sharp.
In the meantime, I have no desire to become the Goliath so someone else can position themselves as an underdog David against me. I’ve used that tactic when necessary and I respect its effectiveness.
I will not let knockoffs walk all over me, either. I will be creative in my opposition to their imitation. I have aces up my sleeves (and in my pockets). But I would much rather meet a worthy competitor in the battlefield of the open market and put our products and skills to the test. Try to beat me at my own game, but don’t be a copycat.
As for Mark Cuban, I think he’s sending the wrong message to anyone who would listen to him.
Have you ever been knocked off? How did you deal with it? Comment below and follow me (top of this page) to see future posts. For even more stories about my approach to business, check out my top-rated book, Pocket Man.
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ABOUT SCOTT JORDAN and SCOTTeVEST
Scott Jordan is the CEO and Founder of SCOTTeVEST, which creates multi-pocket clothing designed to carry electronics. He is the author of Pocket Man: The Unauthorized Autobiography of a Passionate, Personal Promoter. He is also the founder of SKY2BUY.
Read a sample of Scott’s book for more about his experience on Shark Tank and the pocket empire he has built.
Interested in working at SCOTTeVEST? The team is growing and there are several openings available for motivated candidates.