Alibaba taps ex-Pfizer expert to tackle its counterfeit problem

Matthew BassiurA few days after being censured by the US Trade Representative, Alibaba has call in external help to spearhead a new initiative to drive counterfeits off its websites.

The Chinese online commerce giant has appointed ex-Pfizer executive Matthew Bassiur to the newly-created position of head of global intellectual property enforcement, effective next month.

Alibaba said Bassiur will lead a team that "works with international brands and retail partners, industry associations, government regulators, law enforcement and other organisations to advance Alibaba Group's anti-counterfeiting and IP rights protection efforts." 

Prior to joining Alibaba Bassiur was deputy Chief Security Officer at Pfizer, overseeing the pharmaceutical giant's anti-counterfeiting operations, large-scale investigations into criminal activity, physical security and crisis management for North, Central and South America. He has previously held a senior brand protection role at Apple and was formerly a US federal prosecutor.

The announcement comes after Alibaba narrowly avoided being placed on the USTR's just-published Notorious Markets list for 2015, but came in for stern criticism for not doing enough to stop counterfeits infiltrating its Taobao and platforms.

"USTR is increasingly concerned by rights holders' reports that Alibaba Group's enforcement program is too slow, difficult to use, and lacks transparency," it said in a statement.

The notorious markets list is for online and physical marketplaces that are linked to substantial copyright piracy and trademark counterfeiting, and is updated each year. and Taobao marketplace were placed on the Notorious Markets list in 2008, but was removed in 2011 while Taobao was taken off in 2012.

Alibaba has been lobbying hard to stay off the list in the face of increasing discontent among brand owners, including those represented by the American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA) which has become increasingly vocal in its criticism of the Chinese company.

"The US government sent a strong warning to Alibaba," said AAFA president and CEO Juanita Duggan after the list was published. "What it said was, clean up your sites, show us the results, and do it soon."

The AAFA has also complained about Alibaba to the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC), which has jurisdiction as the Chinese company's shares are publicly traded in the US.

Commenting on Bassiur's appointment, Alibaba chairman Jack Ma said counterfeiting "is a problem that challenges all forms of distribution, whether in e-commerce or offline retail."

"We will continue to be relentless in our long-term commitment to protect both consumers and IP rights owners, and we call on all companies in our industry to join our fight against bad actors," he added.

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