We wear helmets to protect our heads, employ services to protect our identities and use cases to protect our smartphones. Protecting intelligence and identity is key to our survival in our complex world. It's no different for a business.

Intellectual property makes up the brain of your company, and your brand is your company's identity. Companies spend millions each year to protect their products and trademarks--at home and abroad. It's true that imitation is a form of flattery, but in business this can be a very expensive and detrimental problem.

Any popular brand is in a constant battle to put an end to knock-offs--you'll find a full and thriving industry based on these copies on the streets of New York City. But you'll also find them in regular retailers. In some ways it's very complimentary, but it's also very frustrating. While copiers and infringers are often signs that a brand has 'made it,' there are very real economic implications. Additionally, there is an emotional expense that goes along with it that is not quantifiable.

There are laws and due process in place to protect innovators; however, it is an expensive and timely process. The copiers are fast, and they either don't know or don't care that they are infringing. It's a bit like the whack-a-mole carnival game--once you stop one infringer, another pops up to take its place.

The safeguards are not always going to hold-up, either. In this global economy, protecting companies as they do business abroad is extremely difficult.

There are a few things companies can do to protect the livelihood of their businesses:

1. Know Your Suppliers

Many suppliers across the globe are perfectly honest and legitimate. These are the ones that are your partners and truly understand that success for your company will translate into success for them as well. Unfortunately, not all suppliers are like this. There are some that are allowing product and tooling to go right out the back door and into the black market.

2. Invest in IP

The process of filing a patent is not necessarily easy, and for a young company, it's not cheap either. Getting it done right out of the gate will help you down the road as your product becomes more popular and more likely to attract the attention of potential copiers.

3. Protect It

It's not enough to hold a patent. You have to be ready to defend it. Again, this can be a very costly and timely process, but there's no point in getting a patent if you're not going to exercise the rights that it affords.

4. Knock It Off

Don't be a part of the problem. Consumers need to be mindful that, while tempting, purchasing knock-off products hurts the economy. Pass it on.

As a brand gets stronger, it will see infringement become a prolific, constant battle. It becomes another cost of doing business, right alongside materials, labor and shipping. Be prepared and vigilant for an ongoing, but very vital battle.