Head Dragon, SnapDragon Monitoring
No longer are fakes and copycats the domain of luxury goods. Products with retail prices as low as USD$5 are being counterfeited in extreme volumes too. This causes confusion amongst customers, brands and shareholders while subsequently diverting revenue from the original inventor—causing havoc with the distribution chain.
Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are often the hardest hit in this scenario. Unaccustomed to even considering the horrors of fakes, and often fresh from a crowdfunding campaign, many are finding themselves thrown into brand protection at the deep-end—anxious, confused and unsure of the next steps.
While online brand protection is but one part of the whole reputation management equation, identifying and removing illicit sellers and products from the internet means preventing the opportunity to sell, export, import and further distribute your products.
The good news is that there are many things brands can do to help themselves, at very little cost.
Most important, is having registered intellectual property rights, such as trademarks or patents [filed in the U.S. with the USPTO]. For businesses in Europe, design rights are another, very useful, registered tool. Copyright is an additional, priceless right which exists from the moment the work is created, regardless of whether it’s registered or not [in the U.S., optional registration is with the U.S. Copyright Office at the Library of Congress]. For SMEs defending themselves against copycats on, for example, a social platform or ecommerce marketplace, trademarks and copyright are the most valuable [thankfully, as the process of patent granting can be complex, slow and expensive].
Be aware of what’s out there.
Google your brands and products frequently. Translate descriptive terms for your product and use these to search. Counterfeiters often avoid using brand names in attempts to avoid detection, despite ripping off your images and entire product. If you find a fake, try and buy one so you can become familiar with how it differs from your original product. Forewarned is forearmed. Be aware too, that Asia is not the sole source of copycats—if you’re particularly unlucky, or a major brand—there may be many factories, in several different countries, manufacturing copycat/fake products.
If you find infringing links, take action.
Use your intellectual property to prove you own the registered rights. Every respected ecommerce and social platform must have an official channel to report worrisome links. If you can prove originality, the listing must, under international law, be removed. This is even true for platforms such as Alibaba and AliExpress where you can use U.S. registered IP to remove copycat products.
Be honest with your supply chain and your distribution chain.
Build good relationships with your supplier and your logistics partners. The better the relationship, the less likely you are to be swindled along the way. Know that you only supplied enough material for a production run of 5,000 units, say, not the 12,000 which appear on the shipping notes … and that your shipping route did not include that unscheduled stop in Hong Kong or Laguna Beach. If the boat or truck does stop somewhere unexpected, ask why? Could your original goods be mingled with fakes? Inspect what arrives carefully. Being open with your distributors means they can keep their eyes peeled too, knowing that you’re on the case and willing and able to take action. The same goes for your customers—those who are warned about fakes will take more care and be less likely to take it out on the brand if they are unwittingly attracted by a cheap knockoff.
Give good advice to your customers about what to look out for [hopefully a couple of distinct differences between genuine and fake]. Also, not to believe sellers who claim to be supplying “direct from the factory,” super cheap deals, old colorways, etc. Don’t give everything away online however, or the fakes will become even more difficult to spot!
Do not panic.
Even if you don’t have registered trademarks or patents, copyright can be a powerful force and should be used, proactively, to protect your business and your customers. Being tenacious in identifying and reporting for removal of illicit sellers is half the battle. When you make a nuisance of yourself, they will move on to copy someone else [not great for someone else, clearly, but much better for you!]. Tenacity and perseverance will win the day.
THE BRAND PROTECTION PROFESSIONAL | SEPTEMBER 2021 | VOLUME 6 NUMBER 3
2021 COPYRIGHT MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY BOARD OF TRUSTEES