5 tips for protecting your brand against online counterfeit

Joan Porta of brand and copyright protection firm Red Points gives his top tips for fighting counterfeits online.

Counterfeiting is an issue that has plagued the industry for many years. However, the advent of the internet has provided a unique global platform for counterfeiters to sell illegal products online, with little to no repercussions. Beyond the obvious reputational damages counterfeit products can have on a business, in some cases, it can pose an even greater threat to customers’ health and safety.

In fact, our study Parents & Online Counterfeits shows that 61 per cent of parents can’t identify counterfeit toys online. This can be extremely dangerous, especially knowing that most counterfeit products do not abide by the European standards of health and safety. This, coupled with countless horror stories in the media of products containing harmful ingredients such as substandard cosmetics, has made it a priority for e-commerce sites, lawmakers, brands and industry experts to come together to protect consumers.

With the counterfeits market now worth $460bn and accounting for almost 5 per cent of all goods imported to the EU – virtually no industry is safe. To combat this growing issue companies can take some easy first steps to protect their products against online counterfeit, here are a few simple tips to protect your brand:

1. Register your Intellectual Property  

This might be a no brainer for big organisations who most certainly have a dedicated team of in-house lawyers in charge of online protection. However, regardless of your size, if you’ve created a product and plan on commercialising it, it’s crucial that you register your intellectual property. First, make sure to register your names and logos as trademarks and consider protecting your products with design and utility patents. You should seek protection in all countries where you intend to market your products and in some key jurisdictions that are often producers of counterfeits, such as China, Turkey and Southeast Asia. Securing your intellectual property requires a significant investment, but will prove essential when it comes to fighting counterfeits, both online and offline.

2. Use e-commerce’s free anti-counterfeit tools

In recent years marketplaces have been actively fighting counterfeit with the introduction of numerous anti-counterfeiting programmes aimed at helping brands to protect their assets against counterfeiters. A good example is Amazon Brand Registry, which offers a robust defence against nefarious counterfeiters trying to sneak onto ecommerce sites illegally. Simply put, Amazon Brand Registry is a program for brands to tell Amazon more about their products and IP. This program helps both brands and Amazon protect against trademark abuses and generally supports the platform to learn more about the brands it is working with. Amazon hosts thousands of brands and hundreds of millions of products, so closer working relationships with brands will give Amazon the knowledge they need to help identify problems early on. This is just one of many initiatives launched by Amazon and other ecommerce sites to address counterfeiters exploiting the site. Ebay, Alibaba, Facebook, Wish, JD, Mercadolibre, Allegro also have their own programmes aimed at helping brands enforce their rights.

3. Use free online resources

There are countless useful free online resources ranging from webinars to online courses which can definitely come in handy when protecting your brand online. Make the most out of these gold mines to educate yourself and your team on the current landscape of IP enforcement. At Red Points for example, we’ve recently launched the first online certification in intellectual property. The Red Points Academy is designed to help experienced and new IP workers expand their knowledge of the IP space.

4. Use state-of-the-art technology

Counterfeit is pretty much like viruses, as soon as you stop actively protecting your computer against it will quickly creep back in. One way to avoid this from happening is to continuously monitor online marketplaces and social media platforms to ensure that your products aren’t being illegally marketed by counterfeiters. Automated removals can often help speed up enforcement procedures in a cost-effective manner, and free up staff’s time to work on other tasks. When brand protection is automated, on average it can take as little as 4.5 hours from detection of infringing content to takedown -- a process that typically takes days or weeks when done manually. Speed and accuracy is key when it comes to effectively fighting online counterfeits, and this can only be achieved with smart technology.

5. Educate your consumers

Many consumers are still falling prey to counterfeits and are buying fake products online without realising. In fact, one of our recent report on the cosmetics industry shows that a staggering 19.5 per cent of consumers have bought fake cosmetics product by mistake which is extremely worrying considering the associated risk of fake cosmetics. As counterfeiters are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their approach, it’s important to educate consumers against fraudulent products while taking steps to protect your products in the online marketplace. Similarly, this may also mean that consumers who were willingly buying counterfeits online may reconsider their positions if you explain the negative impacts resulting from counterfeit goods for legitimate business such as potential job losses.

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