Dentistry business: Copycat dentistry

As a business manager, having assisted companies with business process re-engineering and change management – and not just in the dental marketplace – there is one fundamental point I drive home to company owners and boards of directors: protect your investment.

If I were to do a survey of dentists across the UK and ask them about a range of protective measures, most (if not all) will certainly have them in place.

A few – such as public liability insurance – are statutory. Many are not. Even those that are left to the discretion of the principals are often taken up.

As a dentist or DCP, would you practise without some form of defence union protection?

‘The most obvious threat is that another party will come along, like the look of what you’ve done and simply copy it – the affects could be numerous and disastrous’

How many of you have buildings and/or contents insurance? Most of you probably have a warranty package in place for your high-capital equipment such as Cerec machines and maintenance contracts for compressors, and computer software and hardware.

Why wouldn’t you? If they fail, they can be expensive to repair or replace not to mention the huge impact it will have on your business if they should fail without any form of back up or protection.
In fact, we protect investments all the time, not just in business; we lock doors, we fit alarms and CCTV, we have our cars serviced to protect them and prevent our investment from letting us down on the M25 in the pouring rain.

When I was young, my dad took me to our local police station to get my bike ‘postcoded’ in an effort to prevent it being stolen. We buy travel insurance, laptop insurance, ‘you-name-it-we-cover-it’ insurance.

‘It’s not enough to worry about’
Many of these protection methods for any one of the investments I’ve mentioned above are necessary, essential even, but is this what I mean when I talk about protecting your investment? In part yes, but there are many things that people in business invest in and may not consider whether or how to protect. The main oversight I come across, predominantly with small businesses, is a failure to protect their investment in intellectual property.

I would bet, that if I were to ask principals in the same survey whether they own the intellectual property rights to their websites, practice literature, or their company name/trademark many would not… or would not know.

‘It’s not enough to worry about,’ I hear some of you say. Really? Dentistry in the UK is very quickly coming to terms with consumerism and the public’s right to choose. Those early adopters ‘branded’ their practices as long ago as 10 years. Some have already gone through re-branding.

As more dentists recognise their role as business owners, so more practices are investing in becoming a local brand in their community. Making a concerted effort to reach out to potential customers through advertising, appealing interiors, an intuitive name and eye-catching logo, casting a net (if you’ll pardon the pun!) over the worldwide web to attract more clients, not to mention leaflets, business cards, signage, bags, packaging, uniforms. This list is long and probably continuing to grow.

For any practice that has invested in branding, we could be talking about thousands of pounds of investment – I’ve heard of £8,000 websites alone, not to mention a design company creating a logo and ‘brand’ guidelines.

Let me make one thing clear. I’m not against design or branding; my company provides this service, and does it well (and nowhere near £8,000), and without doubt, it is essential.
The point I’m making is: are you protecting this investment?

What are you protecting against?
The most obvious threat is that another party will come along, like the look of what you’ve done and simply copy it – the affects could be numerous and disastrous.

If they’re not very good, then ‘your name’ will be badly tainted; people may ring the wrong practice to book appointments and be snapped up by your new found companion; you may have to spend much time, effort and stress dealing with a complaint or investigation only to find it’s not even your business that’s been complained about (all of these are real examples).
There has been an explosion of practices over the last few years becoming ‘smile’ environments. There are only so many concoctions before repetition is inevitable.
The other risk is that which occurs if, having not registered your trademark for example, someone else registers it as theirs. There are some ‘get-out-of-jail cards’, but boy, will it cost you to fight your case! It would probably be cheaper to re-brand (physically), but the damage this could do commercially, to some extent, is immeasurable.
Imagine spending thousands of pounds on a website, then thousands more on search engine optimising to retain your profile at the top of Google – in many cases over several years – only to be told you have to change it and rebuild your web presence from scratch. Overnight, you’ve been made extinct from the internet!

By registering your trademark, when another party goes through the application process, searches are conducted to see if there are any similar marks in existence – if there are, then action can be taken early to prevent the use of your mark by another.

Many are put off by the notion that it will cost a great deal to do this. I’ve heard of people paying sums of up to £2,500-£3,000.

But here’s the good news. It doesn’t have to be a solicitor who registers your trademark. You can do it yourself.

Clearly, where challenges are presented, then seeking the advice of a qualified and experienced trademark attorney will likely be necessary.

The process can be a bit lengthy and time consuming. I offer to register trademarks for all of our clients for whom we have created a mark and for only a few hundred pounds, it could be money very well spent to protect your investment!

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