Why should brands be concerned?
The double edged sword of the ecommerce boom
From fashion to adult toys, cosmetics to outdoor apparel; the incredible growth of ecommerce has meant that online retailers and shops are now able to engage with a much wider audience, bringing about the potential for far greater profits. The shift in consumer behavior from the more traditional way of shopping on the high street to buying products online has led to an explosion in the ecommerce industry.
However, this boom in online shopping has also been met with a huge influx of counterfeit versions of goods, appearing online in ever more sophisticated and at times hard-to-detect product listings across a wide variety of channels and online retail giants. Between 2008 and 2013, the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) showed an 80 percent growth in global counterfeiting, and this trend is unlikely to stop any time soon
While it’s difficult to measure the exact size of the counterfeit industry, the International Chamber of commerce estimates that the total value of international trade in counterfeit goods may reach record levels of $991 billion by 2022, which is almost double the size it was in 2015. Some of the main industries affected include footwear, clothing, leather goods, watches, perfume and toys. Alibaba, Aliexpress and Amazon are frequently used by counterfeiters, where they can sell their products alongside real versions at a lower price, as opposed to selling them to dealers in bulk quantities. It is these smaller-scale purchases shipped directly to customers which make it harder for online retailers to monitor and harder for them to enforce penalties on infringing vendors.
Social media and brandjacking
Another growing concern is the number of fake products found on social media. Consumer Electronics Net reports on a study conducted by online brand protection firm, Red Points, which looked into the number of counterfeit soccer jerseys sold on social media channels such as Facebook and Instagram. According to this research, the number of counterfeit shirts detected on Facebook had reached 45% by 2017, while in 2015 this number was just 2.2%.
Brand Quarterly, an online trade magazine for brand owners, highlights the scale and implications of “brandjacking”; where fake goods imposters can impersonate a brand by leveraging content and imagery, keyword manipulation, fake URLs and other techniques which deter traffic away from the genuine brand. All of this ultimately leads to lost revenue, a damaged brand reputation, and innumerably more consequences facing underprepared brands.
This diverse range of tricks adopted by counterfeiters to sell their products complicates the problem further and has rendered time-consuming, manual detection methods and costly legal services inferior in comparison to online brand protection methods. Such methods use machine learning and image recognition technology to detect intellectual property (IP) infringements within hours of them appearing on an online marketplace.
What steps can IP owners take to protect their assets online?
Legally register your intellectual property
In order to protect your patent, design or trademark and be able to enforce a legal obligation for a counterfeit to be removed online, it’s essential that you first register your IP. It’s also recommendable for you to speak with an intellectual property legal expert for you to find out the trademark needs of your enterprise. Rights holders in America can register their IP with the United States Patent and Trademark Office or the US Copyright Office. Those who want to register intellectual property in Europe can find a full and detailed explanation on the European Union Intellectual Property Office’s (EUIPO) website. You can also find a full list of national level authorities on the WIPO Directory of Intellectual Property Offices.
Register your intellectual property with
In recent years, large-scale ecommerce platforms such as Amazon, eBay and Alibaba have experienced many problems with counterfeit goods being sold to consumers; this has forced both Amazon and eBay to act accordingly and tackle the issue. Amazon created Amazon Brand Registry and eBay rolled out VeRO. On these platforms, brand owners can register their intellectual property and then use this as proof of ownership to request the removal of counterfeit versions of their brands. Alibaba also set up the Alibaba Anti-Counterfeiting Alliance to allow big companies to be able to collaborate and combat together against IP infringement.
Purchase variations of your domain name
Cybersquatting is a common way for IP infringers to hijack both brands and traffic volume form authentic companies. Cybersquatters will purchase variations of a brands’ domain name in an attempt to appear legitimate. One way to pre-empt cybersquatting is to beat the infringers to it and buy variations before they do. Consider:
- punctuation differences (e.g. consumer-electronics-net.com)
- spelling errors (e.g. cconsumerelectronicsnet.com)
- extension differences (e.g. consumerelectronicsnet.co.uk)
- typing errors (e.g. comsumerelectronicsnet.com)
- and generic differences (e.g. theconsumerelectronicsnet.com)
Online brand protection software The explosion in ecommerce has also seen a number of online brand protection companies sprout up in order for them to fight against the problems brands are faced with online. Brand protection software is able to scan the internet using targeted keywords and image recognition to identify fake versions of products and other related intellectual property infringements. This combination requires little human interaction and allows brands to make time- and cost- saving measures.