When Jason Hernandez pitched his company Pooch Selfie on Shark Tank this past March, he broke down in tears explaining his battles with copycats

"It's been really hard to watch people try to capitalize on the idea and steal it," Hernandez said of his product, which enables users to take selfies with their dogs. "I'm not only trying to grow the business, but I'm always trying to protect it." 

Hernandez developed the idea for Pooch Selfie--a smartphone attachment that holds a squeaky tennis ball to attract a hound's gaze--in 2015 after struggling to take good pictures with his dog Logan. It turned out he wasn't the only person looking for a solution to that problem: A 2015 Kickstarter campaign seeking to raise $7,000 netted him close to $40,000.

As a result of the attention the campaign drew, however, counterfeit versions of the product soon began appearing online. As Hernandez has grown the San Diego-based business--it booked $380,000 in revenue in 2018 and is on track for $500,000 this year--he's had to decide how to chase after sellers who are knocking off Pooch Selfie.

Fighting copycats on Amazon and eBay can be a challenge. While each platform has its own policy for dealing with counterfeit sellers, both tell founders they won't remove intellectual property-infringing products without a court order or international trade commission order, Hernandez says. That process can cost between $5,000 and $10,000, he adds, making it too expensive for him to chase after every copycat.

Amazon didn't return Inc.'s request for comment. EBay pointed to its verified rights owner program, which investigates reports of counterfeits. Alternatively, Alibaba lets sellers register their U.S.-approved patents so the company can monitor its platform for infringing items, according to the company's website. Hernandez says Alibaba immediately removes items that sellers flag as counterfeit--he's had about 100, including duplicate listings, removed. 

Following his appearance in Shark Tank, Hernandez was able to strike deals to sell Pooch Selfie at Target, Walmart, and Home Depot. While he is well aware the exposure could give rise to more copycats, he says he has something the other sellers don't. 

"People are going to buy the one they saw on Shark Tank," he says. "Having a product that people have seen on TV allows me to organically exist even though I can't get some of these counterfeit products removed." 

Hernandez, who runs Pooch Selfie as a side hustle to his career as an electronics salesman, went on Shark Tank seeking $100,000 for 20 percent equity in the company. After breaking down and admitting his struggles with counterfeit items, he accepted Daymond John's offer of $100,000 for a 33.3 percent stake. 

"My dog Spartan just died and I don't have any pictures of him looking like that," John told Hernandez on the show, pointing to his clear shots of Logan. "I understand the passion to [protect] something and also the love of our little furry friends."

Published on: Aug 23, 2019