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Innovation vs. imitation: 7 businesses that cloned others and made millions

CNBC Logo By Andrew Zaleski, special to CNBC.com of CNBC | Slide 1 of 8: Corporate boards and business schools may focus on innovation. But when starting a company, it can be the case that tweaking an existing idea is both easier and more profitable than creating something from scratch."It's always easier when you're starting a company to try to improve an existing idea," said Paul B. Brown, co-author of the 2012 book Just Start, published by Harvard Business Review Press.Indeed, in today's world copycat companies are a reality of doing business. It's increasingly the case in the crowded field of technology, where different companies' smart watches, smartphones and tablets have come to closely resemble their rivals' products. But it's also the case in other industries, where copycat businesses — when done lawfully — can work and be hugely profitable."Innovation happens from imitation in many ways," said digital strategist and marketer Ross Simmonds. "In business we see that time and time again, with organizations that come out of nowhere with simple tweaks."After all, it wasn't Starbucks, for instance, that invented the coffee shop. But where was the first place you ever ordered a "grande" coffee?Here are seven examples of businesses that cloned others and made millions.

These popular brands got their start by imitating others

Corporate boards and business schools may focus on innovation. But when starting a company, it can be the case that tweaking an existing idea is both easier and more profitable than creating something from scratch.

"It's always easier when you're starting a company to try to improve an existing idea," said Paul B. Brown, co-author of the 2012 book "Just Start," published by Harvard Business Review Press.

Indeed, in today's world copycat companies are a reality of doing business. It's increasingly the case in the crowded field of technology, where different companies' smart watches, smartphones and tablets have come to closely resemble their rivals' products. But it's also the case in other industries, where copycat businesses — when done lawfully — can work and be hugely profitable.

"Innovation happens from imitation in many ways," said digital strategist and marketer Ross Simmonds. "In business we see that time and time again, with organizations that come out of nowhere with simple tweaks."After all, it wasn't Starbucks, for instance, that invented the coffee shop. But where was the first place you ever ordered a "grande" coffee?

Click ahead for seven examples of businesses that cloned others and made millions.

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