Alibaba signs agreement with UK on enhanced IP protection

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba has sought to strengthen the protection of intellectual property on online marketplaces in China after signing an agreement with the China-Britain Business Council.

The strategic co-operation agreement, which builds on an existing partnership signed between the two organisations in 2014, has been described as “ground breaking” and will enhance IP rights protections for UK-based firms looking to do business in China, including support in IP infringement prevention and enforcement.

“The signing of this agreement is a significant step in protecting the interests of UK companies in China,” said Jeff Astle, managing director of China operations at the China-Britain Business Council (CBBC). “There are clear and ambitious commitments on both sides and CBBC are confident about the impact our co-operation will have on the healthy growth of Chinese e-commerce and what that means for international brands here.”

The agreement, according to Alibaba news service Alizila, will see: increased training for small and medium-sized enterprises, as well as larger entities, on processes for removal of IP-infringing listings; enhanced pre-emptive measures to stop infringing content from appearing online; greater knowledge sharing between UK brands, the CBBC and Alibaba; and strengthened offline cross-border law enforcement co-operation.

“Alibaba is delighted to strengthen its relationship with CBBC through this expanded agreement,” said Jessie Zheng, Alibaba’s chief platform governance officer. “We will continue to build the trust that UK brands place in Alibaba while continuing our leadership role in IPR protection within the e-commerce industry.”

The new agreement builds on three years of collaboration fighting IP infringement, which had involved Alibaba agreeing to work with CBBC member companies to remove infringing listings from online marketplaces and providing guidance on how to use the e-commerce giant’s IP protection and notice-and-takedown systems.  

Successes achieved as a result of the initial collaboration included a major offline enforcement action against a criminal network of fake lubricant manufacturers covering six Chinese provinces, which was Alibaba’s highest value offline action of 2015, and pioneering a new co-operation model with Chinese Customs and police in tracking imported counterfeit products from abroad. There was also a successful pilot project around expedited protection of designs.

Tim Moss, chief executive officer and controller general of the UK’s Intellectual Property Office, said the initial collaboration had been successful in reducing infringing behaviour online. “It strengthens IP protection for brand owners and increases consumer confidence that their online purchases are legitimate products. The UK Government is proud to support industry initiatives like this to help IP rights owners and consumers alike.”

The expanded agreement was welcomed by a number of UK brands, which were present at the signing, including Unilever, Reckitt Benckiser, Dyson, BP, and the Scotch Whisky Association, stating that the agreement provided a collaborative platform to identify and shutdown counterfeit networks selling fakes to the Chinese market.

“Co-operating with CBBC and Alibaba over the last three years has made it quicker and easier for us to protect Dyson’s distinctive designs,” said Gill Smith, group IP director at household appliance firm Dyson. “Thanks to the CBBC-Alibaba collaboration on IP, we have been able to remove more fakes from e-commerce sites than ever before. Their support makes a real difference to our ability to protect consumers from poor-quality imitation products.”

The positive feedback will be music to Alibaba’s ears given the criticisms it has faced recently over the persistence of fakes on its platforms. The company is wanting to push a more socially responsible image as it steps up its efforts to crackdown on counterfeits in a bid to woo consumers and brands. This year alone the marketplace has introduced a more streamlined process for takedown requests and formed the Alibaba Anti-Counterfeiting Alliance with 30 brands. In October it announced it was banning the listing of car airbag components on its platform to prevent the sale of counterfeits.

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