Sinking the counterfeit ship: brand owners and online retailers respond


Roxana Sullivan

Sinking the counterfeit ship: brand owners and online retailers respond

Photo: Rostislav Glinsky /

The fight against online pirates has many fronts, involving internet service providers, payment enablers and law enforcement as well as brand owners. Roxana Sullivan reports.

As in the game Battleship, brand owners cannot see their counterfeiting opponents online. They must blindly target, ‘shoot’, and then see if they hit their mark. Unlike the game, in which each ship has a fixed location, online counterfeiters can quickly switch operations to a new website or different account once they have been identified. This switch can happen in days or even hours.

With the fast-paced growth of e-commerce, the availability of counterfeit goods continues to grow to ever higher levels. The International Chamber of Commerce estimates that, by 2015, $1.7 trillion of counterfeit goods will have infiltrated international markets. The International AntiCounterfeiting Coalition (IACC) reports that in the fiscal year 2012, the US Department of Homeland Security seized counterfeit goods valued at more than $1.25 billion in the US alone; this includes products from electronics and luxury goods to baby food, pharmaceuticals and car parts.

The anonymity and fluidity of the internet enable counterfeiters to trick consumers into thinking that they are buying legitimate goods when, in fact, they are fakes. Many consumers are duped by pictures of legitimate products, but what they really order and receive from these online marketplaces are inferior, counterfeit items. Enforcement on these actions is often patchy and, because of the fluidity with which accounts are moved, ineffective. For brand owners, it is as though the Battleship board is tilted in the counterfeiters’ favour.

counterfeit, online retailers, brand owners, trademark protection, Taobao