5 August 2019TrademarksSarah Morgan

Exclusive interview: Amazon expands Project Zero to Europe

Amazon has today, August 5, expanded Project Zero, a programme which it claims “empowers brands to help drive counterfeits to zero”, to Europe.

Aimed at driving counterfeits to zero, Project Zero is now available on Amazon’s European stores in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK.

Currently invite-only, Amazon is working to add more brands to the programme.

Ahead of the launch, Dharmesh Mehta, vice president, Amazon worldwide customer trust and partner support, spoke to WIPR about the US version of the project and the progress it’s made.

“More than 99.9% of the products that consumers view have never received a counterfeit complaint,” Mehta said. He added that while that’s a high rate of authentic products being sold on Amazon, it’s not perfect and it’s not resulting in zero counterfeits.

“How could we combine what Amazon has in terms of strengths in technology, machine learning and innovation with the strengths brands have in the intimate knowledge of their own products and IP? And how can we work together to drive products to zero?” he said.

This was the main impetus behind Project Zero and, with more than 3,000 brands involved in the US since its launch in February, the programme has proved popular.

A three-pronged approach

Project Zero has a suite of tools that combine advanced technology and machine learning with a brand’s knowledge.

The first of these tools, automated protections, continuously scans the online stores, proactively removing suspected counterfeits.

For the US brands involved in the programme, the automated protections have prevented more than 65 million products from being prevented and sold in stores.

“Our aim is to proactively prevent these [counterfeits] before anyone ever sees them,” said Mehta.

Traditionally, if a counterfeit does ‘get through’ the automated protections, the rights owner would need to submit notice to Amazon, which would investigate and take appropriate action, which can lead to “a lot of delay and back-and-forth”, warned the Amazon executive.

Under Project Zero, the second tool comes in the form of a self-service counterfeit removal tool.

Mehta asked: “If brands are here to help us drive counterfeits to zero and if they’re trying to get counterfeits out of our stores, why don’t we just give them the power to do so?”

The self-service tool allows a brand to search the Amazon platform and, if they believe they’ve found a counterfeit, the brand can take it down itself.

This gives brands unprecedented power to directly control and remove listings from the Amazon store.

“There’s been a couple of cases where brands [have been] abusing the self-service counterfeit removal tool so we’ve removed a small number of brands from the project,” warned Mehta.

In terms of actual numbers, for every one suspected counterfeit that a brand has taken down, more than 500 have been proactively stopped by Amazon’s automated protections.

The third and final tool is a product serialisation capability, which provides brands with a unique code for every product it manufactures and allows Amazon to scan and verify the authenticity of every unit before it is shipped to a customer.

When a brand joins Project Zero, Amazon turns on automated protections for all them but it’s up to the brand whether they use the removal or serialisation tools.


The brands that are using serialisation as part of Project Zero, haven’t used the self-service counterfeit removal at all, according to Mehta.

And for those brands using the self-service tool, Amazon has received zero notices of counterfeits from them.

Prior to today’s launch, Amazon privately invited 15 brands to test out the experience in Europe. From today, brands will be placed on a waitlist.

While Mehta is not an expert in what other online platforms are doing, he believes that each of the components of Amazon’s suite is unique.

On automated protections, Mehta said: “I’m excited about the technology advances underneath the protections. We’ve presented papers on some of them, and we have IP associated with some of this technology. I’m not aware of anyone else that, at scale, is giving brands access to directly remove products from their store.”

Unlike other companies, Amazon’s product serialisation is more proactive, added Mehta.

Many other companies will apply a unique code during the manufacturing process, so the customer is able to scan the code after purchasing the project, which is “entirely reactive”, he said.

Mehta said: “Our approach … is part of what happens in our store, so we can scan and verify before it gets to a customer and stop it if it’s inauthentic. This is much better for the customer and for the brand. It also allows us to take the appropriate actions if there’s a broader issue.”

Cracking down on counterfeits

In April this year, US President Donald Trump signed a memorandum aimed at cracking down on the online sale of pirated and counterfeit goods.

The memo requires that the Departments of Homeland Security, Commerce and Justice deliver a report analysing the extent to which online third-party marketplaces and other third-party intermediaries are used to facilitate the importation and sale of counterfeit and pirated goods.

In a call to journalists and reported on by CNBC, Peter Navarro, director of the White House National Trade Council, said of the marketplaces: "This is a warning shot across the bow that it is your job to police these matters, and if you won't clean it up the government will.”

At the time, online marketplaces including Amazon welcomed the new initiative.

Recently, Amazon submitted comments as part of the process.

“A core part of that memo is around the value and impact we can have by government organisations, brands, marketplaces … working together to stop counterfeits. We’re super aligned with that and I think there’s more we can do there,” explained Mehta.

Part of this is improved data sharing between what customs and similar organisations around the world have versus what they’re willing to share with us. This includes data that different companies can share to identify patterns and create better referrals for law enforcement.

Mehta also believes that while criminal referrals are not the end-all solution, they are a significant deterrent.

“If you look at digital piracy and what happened several decades ago in terms of monetary and criminal penalties, I don’t think counterfeiting has kept pace,” he added.

Mehta concluded: “The more we can do to create additional disincentives for the bad actor and get better at detecting them is good for all of us.”

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