22 May 2018

Combating Counterfeit Sports Products

Jerseys, shirts, socks, and balls. These are some of the most at-risk branded sporting products targeted by counterfeiters, said Tanya Fickenscher, Vice President, Deputy General Counsel at Major League Baseball Properties, Inc. (USA), who moderated yesterday’s Session IM01 Industry Breakout: Battling Counterfeit Sports Merchandise—A Multi-Jurisdictional Review.

Victoria Loughery, Assistant Counsel at the National Football League (USA) commented that it is important for sports brands to stay up to date with the latest technologies to help protect consumers from counterfeit goods.

She highlighted a shift towards the mobile and social media landscape as providing opportunities for counterfeiters, who can purchase advertisements that target particular consumers, making monitoring potential counterfeit sales online more difficult.

“This was really a game changer,” said Ms. Loughery.

Scott Palmer, a Partner at Perkins Coie LLP (China), spoke about how to tackle counterfeiting issues in China. There was a time when people perceived counterfeiters in China as “unwitting”, he said, but things have definitely changed.

He described counterfeiters in China as some of the most sophisticated in the world, saying they are increasingly knowledgeable about the sport industry, know who to target, and understand which products sell.

“If brand owners don’t have sufficient rights in China, the chances are that when you look at the registry, somebody has gotten there before you,” he warned. It’s important to act to gain rights in China or it can be extremely difficult to stop counterfeiters.

Helen Chen, Legal Director at the National Basketball Association China, added that the Internet is making it harder to identify who is engaging in counterfeit activity.

“They are trying every way to avoid being found,” she said. “They either have little, a limited, or no inventory. They will produce products on demand.”

The counterfeiters take advantage of the privacy provided by some social media platforms to conduct business.

These factors mean it is harder “to find a good lead and to capture useful evidence,” Ms. Chen said.

While the Internet provides counterfeiters with a means of hiding their identity, some popular European cities, such as Barcelona, contending with street vendors selling counterfeit sporting products out in the open.

Although this is a problem, Anna Guix, Intellectual Property Lawyer at FC Barcelona (Spain), said there are ways to counter the threat.

“For brand owners, one of the key tools you have to fight against this phenomenon is to build really strong relationships with authorities – mainly the police,” she said.

Ms. Guix added that brands can collaborate with the authorities by training them to identify an authentic product.

“If they see the brand is really working together with them, then they will be collaborative,” said Ms. Guix.

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