Rapid technological advancements are making it easier than ever for counterfeiters to produce authentic-looking goods to sell online. Rachel Jones runs us through the basics of protecting your brand.
Every sector is affected, and small businesses can be particularly vulnerable as enforcement costs escalate quickly, especially when operating in an international marketplace.
Loss of revenue is a major challenge for businesses targeted by counterfeiters and potentially devastating implications for companies with little flexible income. Counterfeits destroy brand reputations and harmful fakes present a real danger to consumers.
To protect your brand from counterfeiters, here are some practical safeguards you can put in place to protect yourselves online – often for no, or very little, cost.
Trademarks and design rights
It is vital to file trademarks that are valid in the countries where you plan to sell – and make - your product, preferably before any information about it appears online. Most trademark attorneys offer a very cost-effective service around trademark registration and it’s even possible to file your own. Registered trademarks are your first line of defence when copied online, and come highly recommended as being amongst the most cost-effective pieces of registered intellectual property available. You may also be able to file Design Rights for your product. These protect the shape and configuration of a product – not the function – but again can be extremely valuable in the proving ownership of a concept.
This clever trick can help to identify a fake which looks very close to the real deal. Add a thread that is only visible under special lighting to the design, or a bespoke holographic security image. Share these secrets sensibly, with the Customs Authorities or other key stakeholders, to help those in the know spot and report fakes quickly. You should also refresh your packaging on a regular basis.
Knowledge is Power
Learn everything you can about intellectual property (IP) infringement issues. Counterfeiters are constantly finding new ways to manufacture and sell their fakes, so you need to keep ahead of the game. Research all the latest scams, and keep up to date with any new legislation. Remember to register your brand (for free) with the EUIPO Enforcement Database which helps to detect counterfeits at the point of import.
If you find you have been targeted, do not panic. If you take action immediately, you can resolve the situation, which is why it is vital you monitor for fakes vigilantly. If you spot anything suspicious, buy a sample yourself so you can take a good look and detect any differences. Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t!
Every bona fide online marketplace has an official reporting procedure so if you find a fake on an online marketplace register your complaint. You just need to prove the IP is yours and the link to the fake should be removed. You do not need to involve lawyers to report this kind of infringement, but if you do, in the case of a protracted or significant violation, collate all the background information first so they need to do as little (expensive!) research as possible.
Manufacturing in China offers many advantages, and their factories are second to none. However, as we all know, counterfeiting in China, is a problem. Insist upon a non-disclosure, non-use, non-circumvention (NNN) agreement. This can be more effectively enforced in China, and is better than a standard UK, or US NDA. Ensure this is signed before sharing any information about your product to keep your IP as safe and secure as possible.
Make sure your secret ingredients are just part of your product spec, ensure your trademarks are registered in China (and potentially also in Hong Kong and Taiwan), be vigilant …
Counterfeiting is a growing industry and the more popular your product becomes, the more at risk you are of being targeted. Don’t let the bad guys win. Be vigilant, be alert and you will win.