Every brand wants to protect its consumers from harm. Unfortunately, the Internet is replete with counterfeit goods. Not only do fakes eat into brand revenues to fund illicit networks, they also pose health and safety risks to consumers.
The problem is endemic on the web. Counterfeit products are appearing at the top of search results and are readily available to consumers. Social media platforms like Snapchat, WeChat and TikTok are also used by counterfeiters to promote their fraudulent goods and then funnel unsuspecting (or sometimes suspecting) buyers to a place from which they can make the transaction. Marketplaces such as Amazon, despite being widely regarded by consumers as a trustworthy platform, are known to contain thousands of counterfeit products.
Safety is a major concern. Counterfeit cosmetics, for instance, can be produced in unsanitary and unregulated environments, and even using toxic components. The same situation occurs with toys; last December, a 4-year-old child was rushed to the emergency room after swallowing 13 magnets that were exposed when the toy broke apart. The toy was originally misidentified in the news as the U.S. brand Magformers, but upon further investigation it turned out to be a Chinese counterfeit.
Recently, the Senate Finance Committee released a bipartisan report, titled “The Fight Against Fakes: How Statutory and Regulatory Barriers Prevent The Sharing of Information on Counterfeits," which recommends improved information sharing between U.S. Customs and Border Protection and its private sector partners to help identify and curb the sale of counterfeit imports, underscores the challenges rights holders have in enforcing their intellectual property online and many of the health and safety risks of counterfeits sold online.
So what can brands do to address the challenges they encounter as rights holders in enforcing their intellectual property online? Here are four ways to craft a plan of attack:
1. Think Networks, not One-offs
Brands that are most successful in protecting themselves online work on identifying entire networks of counterfeiters. If they just focus on taking down an individual listing, this simply causes a temporary inconvenience rather than a lasting impact on the counterfeit network.
2. Be deliberate with markets monitored for fake products
Identify counterfeit listings in both key markets where the brand's products are popular (for example, North America) but also regions rife with fakes (e.g., China or Ukraine) in order to limit the market that counterfeit wholesale manufacturers target with fake products. When the market of the wholesale counterfeit manufacturers shrinks, there will also be less order seizures and government health warnings that impact the authentic brand's reputation.
3. Educate teams across the organization
There are many teams and departments within a company that can potentially spot and report counterfeit goods, beyond the fraud and legal departments of a brand's organization. For example, e-commerce and digital marketing teams also have ownership in protecting their investment in the brand. While this is not a discipline that they are generally aware of, it does have a demonstrable value on areas that they are accountable for, such as revenue and customer trust. Clearly define policies organization-wide on how to identify, who to contact, and what tools to use when dealing with a trademark infringement.
4. Have a clear strategy for monitoring & enforcement
Once fake products have been confirmed by the relevant stakeholders at the brand, ensure that there's a plan for enforcement. Some platforms are better about trademark compliance than others. For example, search engines are not bound by the same laws as online marketplaces. It helps to know which parties will be supportive and which ones will not in order to be efficient and effective with the clean-up.
Brands have a lot to lose and gain in the fight against counterfeit goods. The reputation and revenue loss can have a crippling effect on brands targeted by counterfeiters. Having a scalable strategy is vital to getting desired and necessary results in brand protection.
Svetlana Ilnitskaya is the director of customer strategy at Incopro, where she consults on brand protection solutions for customers, ensuring innovative and creative approaches to the ever-evolving brand protection challenges faced by IP owners. Svetlana joined Incopro in 2015 as an enforcement analyst, and was later promoted to manage the Brand Protection teams at Incopro. At Incopro, Svetlana has built successful brand protection programs for Incopro clients across fast moving consumer goods, fashion, e-commerce and media sectors. Prior to Incopro, Svetlana worked at tech and cybersecurity companies where she gained an understanding of internet technologies and developed online investigative skills. She has a law degree and a bachelor's degree in international relations.