“Imitation is the greatest form of flattery” — Charles Caleb Colton 1777-1832

The quote has long held that ideas, creations, and concepts of all kinds that find their foundation in the work of others honor the creator by replicating it with little or no revision.

Imitation can be the highest form of flattery because it shows that you have not only taken the time to observe someone else/their work, but also like it enough to replicate it. Copying can be highly annoying, but it really is a form of flattery.

Although flattering, such things bring up the idea of trademarks and copyrighting to make your intellectual property yours. This will protect the work product but does not always prevent the wholesale co-opting of your concepts and processes.

George Likourezos, a partner at the prominent law firm of Carter de Luca offers the following: “Companies should also be diligent and mindful of protecting new innovations, know-how, work-product, customer lists, processes, marketing strategies, software, brands and logos, and other intangible assets. An IP attorney can advise on the most appropriate IP for a product or service. For example, a company designing a new wind turbine can look to patent protection, whereas a company designing a new consumer product may look to patent, trademark, and copyright protection.”

Many proud business owners, especially those that are out in public, who expose their plans to contemporaries, colleagues and even “friendly competitors” need to revisit their willingness to share.

From personal experience this flattery thing has smacked me firmly in the face. As my business grew, I was so proud of the accomplishment. I loved giving tours of our facility and talking about where we were heading. In projecting the coming years, I was anxious to get input from my fellow executives and in retrospect should have damped my openness. Fast forward to a few months from one of those tours I observed that my plan was being executed by the “friend” I had revealed it to. After a period of time the reality climaxed in my mind and I called out the individual and received the most embarrassing and rude response. “If you didn’t want me to you should have said so in the first place or you shouldn’t have told me at all. Too late now.” Quite a bitter pill, but lesson learned. You would think.

Flattery is not always preemptive. Growing a business means creating and evolving initiatives and offerings. Going to market in different ways is the backbone of good business. When you roll out something new, you should be prepared to see cloaked or thinly disguised copies in the marketplace.

In fact, leaders of progressive forward-thinking companies are the mentors to their competitors. How many times have you seen businesses jump on the band wagon when their competition comes out with something new? It does not matter what size company we are talking about. The larger enterprises are more visible, and it is easier to see when they use promotions and advertising that plays on the themes of the predecessor ads coming from their rivals. But this happens too many times to count at every level of the marketplace.

So what is to be done? First and foremost, keep your ideas to yourself. Protect what you can with trademark and copyrighting. Launch all new initiatives broadly, loudly, and aggressively to claim the high ground of being first. Know this however, unless the cost of entry is heavy, you should not think you will be on the top of the mountain. There will be copycats, co-opters and competition that never ends. Keep your cards close to your chest, indeed.

The author, Greg Demetriou is the founder and CEO of Lorraine Gregory Communications, a full-service integrated marketing and advertising agency. He is also the originator of the Ask A CEO interview series found on GregsCornerOffice.com.