The practice of “imitating” or “borrowing” or “learning” from competitors to create content seems to be more virulent than the swine flu, and just as contagious. It is one thing to take a class or seminar and learn how to develop a new skill and go forth and apply that skill in your profession. It is another thing entirely to take a class, take the materials and go forth—without permission from or compensation to the original provider—and use those materials for profit. Another example of stepping beyond the bounds of acceptable practices is utilizing tools (like spreadsheets) that you come into possession of through a client that have been developed for that client by another service provider. By using that spreadsheet for use with your next client to expand your “product” offering without the permission of your client or the other service provider, you are taking someone else’s content. Intellectual property is intellectual property by any name, and it doesn’t smell so sweet when you are utilizing someone else’s work products.

 

Inspired By or Coproduced

 

There are situations in which you have a template or a document that you have worked on with someone, or it is made available for your use or editing. Or you’ve taken a class or you read an article and become inspired by the content and felt compelled to write or develop something on the topic. Go for it, but realize the difference between “inspired” and “duplicated” or “plagiarized.” If you would like to quote or use part of someone else’s stuff, give them credit, get permission or coproduce a product. It will be good for both of you.

 

It drives me nuts when one service provider helps another to learn something or to build a business, and then the person being helped “back stabs” the original provider. Here’s an example: At a recent seminar, a colleague of mine was asked by a business associate if he would give the associate a few minutes to promote an upcoming event. Being a generous person and always willing to help others build their businesses, he agreed. Subsequently he provided the opportunity for this man to stand up and promote his event. The gentleman (and I use the term for politeness only) stood up and introduced a person he brought with him: my colleague’s direct competitor, who was holding workshops that were in direct competition with my colleague! Wham! Bam! In your face slam! Talk about hijacking someone’s IP! This person had the nerve to walk in and get access to my colleague’s clients and prospects, and bring in a direct competitor to meet them.

 

Just this month I dealt with a competitor who asked for a networking meeting without first revealing he was a competitor. He hen proceeded to ask questions about what I did, charged, etc. as if he wanted to be a client starting his consulting practice. Only then did he reveal that he was going to be competing with me … and asked if I had any clients for him! Fortunately, we come from two very different backgrounds and skill sets, so his positioning as competition can happen from a marketing standpoint, but not from a services delivery standpoint. But that won’t always be true for me or any other service provider. There are some things we can do to protect ourselves from ethical misconduct. For instance:

 

  • Include in our client agreements intellectual property clauses that protect intellectual property rights to models, business methods, etc.
  • Obtain trademarks, copyrights and other important intellectual property registrations
  • Include on all documents (including spreadsheet models) any copyrights, proprietary markings and other intellectual property indicators
  • Put in place non-competes, non-disclosures and other agreements with other service providers that you engage for services or do business with
  • Create business practices, policies and procedures to protect your intellectual property
  • Be careful whom you do business with

 

Helping others is the role of a service provider. Helping yourself to other people’s IP, clients, or information, and taking advantage of their willingness to help is bad behavior—and bad business.

 

Copyright ©2009 F.O.C.U.S. Resource, Inc. by Lea A. Strickland

 

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