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As consumers, we should take greater care in scrutinising online deals which may seem too good to be true given the potential for disappointment, say Rachel Jones and Jet Doran of SnapDragon Monitoring.
For many non-readers of WIPR, counterfeiting remains something experienced by luxury brands, commonly found in continental tourist markets and on the street corners of favourite conurbations. Increasingly however, the £5 product from the lesser known brand is being counterfeited around the world—causing havoc in terms of brand reputation, diverted revenues and customer dissatisfaction.
Baby products, dog food, laptop chargers and suitcases are some examples of products which are targeted by counterfeiters. When sold online, complete with a recognised brand name and often ‘borrowed’ official images, and at a credible price on known marketplaces, it can be near impossible to verify the authenticity of these products.
Fakes can be offered at just a fraction less than the original price, making them look like fabulous deals. However, the fake has none of the standards of the original, the price of which results from the total cost of taking the original product to market: its design, prototyping, market testing, IP registrations, branding, marketing, safety testing, insurance, and logistics, to name but a few components.
Fakes have none of this. They simply rip off the brand name, visual characteristics and off they go. Even CE certification marks can be counterfeited.
With 4.7 billion customers expected online by 2020, and 20% growth annually, the opportunity for online selling, and online buying, is unparalleled. With this comes the opportunity to buy and sell fakes.
To any business, online protection is but one piece of an overall, often complex, brand jigsaw. But a proactive, 24x7 online monitoring and takedown strategy goes a long way towards making a significant difference, for minimal investment.
Identifying and removing known counterfeit products and listings from public marketplaces, be this B2B, B2C, or C2C, means they can no longer be offered to the desired audience with such ease. If they are no longer evidently for sale online, they aren’t exported through this route either.
"Legal counsel, in-house and external, need to up their game in terms of proactive online brand protection strategies."
As such, imports are also affected, positively, protecting business and the consumer. Yes, the wily fakers will try every trick in the book to re-list their products, but software solutions and proactive marketplaces have facilitated the process of identifying and preventing repeat offenders—so what was once ‘whack-a-mole’ is now only an occasional molehill.
Widely registered IP, whether trademarks, designs or patent rights, will go a long way towards online brand protection. The Alibaba Group’s acceptance of non-Chinese registered IP for the outward-facing platforms (Alibaba and AliExpress) helps many, particularly small businesses, for whom registering Chinese IP is out of reach. For others, with less formalised IP, unregistered copyright is a powerful and often underused weapon.
Many ambitious entrepreneurs, launching innovative products through crowd funding platforms, have been mercilessly targeted, with fake products reaching the market before the original concept.
Legal counsel, in-house and external, need to up their game in terms of proactive online brand protection strategies. While it’s common enough to register IP in the territories in which a brand will hope to do business, China is ignored too often,
even when the manufacturing base remains outside the country.
Searching online for the product description, not just the brand name, in various languages, may offer an insight into who else considers the product has potential, and where. Nefarious traders register brand names with regularity in their own territories often before the original has even got its first export order out of the country.
SnapDragon’s expertise in online brand protection stems from Rachel defending her own brand online, globally. Her baby product, sold around the world, was counterfeited some years ago, necessitating an instant proactive approach to identify and remove copycat products being sold online.
SnapDragon’s ‘Swoop’ algorithms now monitor the world’s busiest online marketplaces to identify products which infringe our clients’ IP. Machine learning and AI combine key words, image recognition and various other ‘secret’ ingredients pertaining to each client’s supply chain, delivering fast, accurate listings of potentially fake products. Either the client, their counsel, or SnapDragon, then reports each infringement for removal, protecting the client’s revenues, reputation and, ultimately, customers. Available as a SaaS, or managed service, Swoop is now used the world over, by brands and law firms alike.
For IP advisors, territories where more protection is required are quickly identified; for the brand, products of concern are flagged and (along with the sellers) can be taken off line, and investigated further if necessary. Data is clustered and easily harvested, providing vital evidence for litigation.
All this said, everyone could be counselled to #taketimebuyingonline—whether just a quick brand purchase from the world’s favourite shopping portal, or a carefully considered but excellent deal from elsewhere.
Not only do counterfeits affect brands, reputations, revenues and customers, but the income derived from fakes finances the underground economy, drug and people trafficking, prostitution, and worse. As brand advisors, whether lawyers, counsel, attorneys, marketeers or simply employees, we all have a responsibility to prevent the brands for which we work, inadvertently funding such activities through simple ignorance of the issues they face.
As consumers we also have a responsibility to not purchase what might be a good, but harmful, deal, so #buyreal.
Whether as part of the overall business strategy, or as part of a formal commitment to corporate social responsibility, it’s simple common sense.
Rachel Jones is founder of SnapDragon Monitoring, a UK-based online brand protection company. Discovering SMEs had little support in this arena, she founded SnapDragon to cater for SMEs, and it now works with brands and law firms around the world. She can be contacted at: email@example.com
Jet Doran is director of research at SnapDragon. A legal graduate, she has long been passionate about preventing illegal trade in fake goods. Doran leads SnapDragon’s team of multinational analysts, working for brands around the world. She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
SnapDragon, brand protection, counterfeits, luxury brands, CE certification, legal counsel, IP infringement, corporate social responsibility