Today, bad actors are using every tool at their disposal to commit brand abuse and sell counterfeit goods through online marketplaces, social media platforms, and ecommerce storefronts. In addition to trademark infringement, companies deal with revenue loss, social media impersonation, and cybersquatters infringing on domain names.
So, what is brand protection? In a nutshell, a brand protection strategy safeguards a company’s intellectual property against counterfeiters, pirates, and infringers. However, not every brand deals with the same level of abuse and infringements, so an online brand protection strategy should be tailored to a brand’s unique situation.
Our latest comprehensive guide for brand protection offers three main strategies brands can take depending on the stage of abuse that they encounter. In this article, we’ll summarize the main points of the report.
In this article:
At this level, your brand has just started to deal with effects of counterfeiting or other types of brand abuse like domain impersonation. Or, perhaps you haven’t noticed anything like this happening yet, but you want to be on the safe side and start an online brand protection strategy early. The basic steps for a starter strategy are:
The first step to successfully challenge suspected IP infringers and boost ecommerce revenue is to register your brands’ names and logos as trademarks and consider protecting every product with design and utility patents. Albeit costly, this is arguably one of the best investments to ensure businesses can effectively keep control of their brand both online and offline.
However, a commonly made mistake is to assume that covering all the countries where the product will be marketed is enough. In today’s digital age where counterfeits travel at the speed of light, trademarks should also ideally include regions with higher rates of counterfeit issues. This initial safety blanket will guarantee future successful enrollment in all major ecommerce’s free anti-counterfeit programs, such as Amazon Brand Registry or eBay Verified Rights Owner.
Other quick wins that can go a long way when fighting against online infringers include sharing Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) with prospective partners before agreeing to work with them, as partnering without protecting confidential information can otherwise put a brand at risk. Additionally, registering the most obvious domain variations for a brand is another effective way to protect a brand against cybersquatters claiming domain names to take advantage of genuine companies’ trademarks.
Let’s take a quick look at the types of IPthat can be infringed online.
Enforcement is based on proof of evidence which would need to comply with certain requirements in order to be admissible in enforcement proceedings. Most Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) protection actions, therefore, start with the process of collecting evidence.
In the world of proving the existence of IP, the burden falls on right holders to prove that its IP is being infringed upon. Depending on which platform you are reporting IP infringements, different evidence will be required from you.
Most common evidence required for social media platforms:
Most common evidence required for marketplaces:
Without this information at hand for each infringement, you won’t be able to proceed with the reporting process.
Once you have all the following information, you will need to make sure you comply with each platform’s individual reporting requirements and register your IP there. All major marketplaces such as Alibaba sites, Amazon, and eBay all have different methods for registering your IP. For example, on eBay this is done through it’s VeRO program. Registering your IP with the platforms will speed up most removal requests. You will also need to decide what type of infringement you are reporting, again depending on the infringement type you may be required different evidence.
The internet and ecommerce have made it incredibly easy to infringe IP rights on an enormous scale, so it’s important to keep your rights protected everywhere. Identifying relevant platforms’ requirements and processes for takedown requests is key to ensure your IP rights are being enforced on marketplaces and social media sites.
Then one of the most accessible methods is to begin manually enforcing your IP rights. At low counterfeit volumes, this process can be completed in a few hours per week and blocks the connection between counterfeiters and potential customers.
After sending a takedown request, make sure to check up on the status on a daily basis, and respond to potential counter-notices.
As your brand grows, you may find that many counterfeiters want to siphon off some of your success for themselves. At this level, you’re frequently seeing counterfeits on several different platforms. After taking care of the steps outlined in the starter strategy, you can take more control over the situation. The intermediate strategy involves the following:
It’s important to consider that brand abuse takes place on many different channels. An increasingly higher percentage of fake items are sold via social media and marketplaces, away from the more traditional ecommerce sites.
One way to find this out is to audit your brand IP infringements: where do they take place and how frequent are they? There are a number of brand protection companies that will audit your business for free. This will allow you to prioritize where the threat is biggest and thus where you would like to focus your resources.
As a first step, you can also take advantage of our free Brand scan to analyse your level of counterfeits online.
In addition to this, it’s good practice to consider your own target market. Where will they look for your products and for products like yours – will it be through apps, social media or on e-commerce sites? Also, consider your geographic focus. A combination of these factors will help you build a clear picture of what kind of service you need.
First, you may be considering using a traditional legal firm, however, while they can handle cases of brand abuse, manual searches and low tech scans are simply not efficient enough for modern threats: counterfeiters are able to create hundreds of listings that are nearly impossible to detect by the naked eye.
No modern-day brand can afford to rely only on traditional methods of finding counterfeits. Technological solutions do not replace an existing legal or brand protection team, the technology allows teams to work with greater efficiency, freeing them from searches and submitting removal requests; it lets them deal with the more complicated stuff.
Besides these, leveraging AI technology can help address one of the biggest challenges borne out of the advent of the internet — mass online counterfeiting. The sheer volume of online retail platforms and the speed with which counterfeiters can now produce and advertise fakes has rendered traditional IP enforcement methods clearly insufficient.
There are a number of services that offer a wide range of protection, from multinational protection services to traditional legal firms or smaller tech-based solutions. Whether you are choosing a tech-led or traditional-based solution for your brand, there are some key factors to consider before you select your solution.
The right brand protection service will prevent and respond to any cases of unauthorized trademark use. It, therefore, protects you from loss of revenue and crucial damage to your brand equity.
Here are 6 key metrics/considerations to have in mind when choosing a brand protection platform:
When you employ a brand protection platform, you aren’t just protecting your business from counterfeiters. You’re also enabling it to grow faster and stronger. An effective online brand protection strategy allows you to recapture revenue, enjoy direct cost savings and safeguard your marketing campaign investment. Ensuring authentic brand experiences has the added benefit of solidifying brand reputation while reducing instances of online fraud, bad customer experiences, and unauthorised channels.
That’s why it’s important for you to educate key stakeholders within your organisation across Sales, Marketing, Digital, Legal, Manufacturing, Supply Chain, and Finance departments so they can enjoy the benefits and outcomes of a strong brand protection strategy.
Here are some direct benefits linked to modern brand protection:
You can try to fight infringements all by yourself, but that will take time. How many counterfeit sellers can you stop on your own time? How many can you stop with a dedicated in-house person? Staying on top of each counterfeiter is more than a full-time job. Pursuing legal action with sellers and manufacturers in other countries takes a lot of time, and you could be investing this time in more strategic projects or other key areas of your business.
In addition to time, by prioritizing online brand protection your business can mitigate risks and financial impact resulting from lost sales to counterfeits, stolen web traffic, brand impersonation, and fraud. With the right strategy in place, your company can see significant ROI.
There are many unfortunate things about counterfeit items, but one of the worst is that your reputation is tied to these products. People who don’t know they’ve got a fake will blame you for anything that goes wrong with it. From poor customer service to broken pieces, it all comes down to your brand.
Your brand doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Businesses are connected like branches on a tree. There are always other companies or people that you depend on. Unfortunately, fakes can cause branches on that tree to wither and die. In a more literal sense, the partnerships you have in your distribution chain can sour because of counterfeit products.
You can avoid this by using a brand protection solution. With one in place, fake items won’t undercut the price agreements you have with your retailers. In turn, you’ll keep the trust you’ve built with them.
Teach your customers to spot fakes
The key to educating consumers about counterfeiting is to highlight aspects of your product that are the most difficult for counterfeiters to copy perfectly. This can include special details on the item’s packaging, special security tags or integrated technology such as blockchain, stitching and fabric on fashion products, serial codes and any other relevant product details.
Aside from aspects of the product, there are other details that can serve as key giveaways for checking an item’s authenticity. A product’s price can be a good indicator for instance. As counterfeiters’ biggest advantage over their legal competition is to undercut them on price, brands can outline clear pricing guidelines, under which any product sold could likely be a counterfeit.
The other products a seller has in stock is another good determiner of authenticity. Selling a limited range of products is often indicative of counterfeiting. Finally, the site security for websites – generally shown with a padlock to the left of the URL in a browser – is an important indicator of authenticity.
Education about the harms of counterfeiting
Having a customer base that is able to differentiate real from fake products is a good start – but the process isn’t over yet. There is a difference between deceptive and non-deceptive counterfeiting. Having people be able to spot a fake helps them from being tricked.
An advanced strategy for online brand protection brings things to a new level. At this stage, you are dealing with a high volume of counterfeits and have noticed that infringers keep coming back. Here’s what to do:
Adopting a proactive approach to IP infringements helps brands excel in the fight against fakes. Having the right insights to make informed decisions can shape the difference between a regular or an outstanding brand protection strategy.
Traditional brand protection is based on a reactive approach. For instance, once an IP infringement is detected, businesses do their best to take them down as fast as possible. Nevertheless, what if they were able to have the tools and information needed to get ahead of the game, and reduce the risk of future infringements?
Clustering technology gathers IP infringements data points across online platforms and automatically connects them to help uncover counterfeiters’ identity.
Adopting a proactive approach to IP infringements helps brands have carry out more impactful and long-lasting actions when it comes to fighting counterfeiters.
A strong brand protection strategy is about a lot more than “just” taking down fakes. The good news for brands is that Red Points’ Brand Intelligence Platform can process a large amount of information and get smarter and faster as it learns from new customer cases, meaning they can offer actionable data to help improve companies’ IP strategy and zero in on brand abusers.
And the good thing is, this valuable data doesn’t have to be used for brand protection enforcement alone. By approaching your data from different angles and making it available to various teams throughout your organisation, you can optimise marketing, pricing, products, promotions, customer service, distribution and other areas of your business.
Below are several examples of how monitoring online counterfeiting activity yields intelligence to inform business decisions across your company.
By using your branded keywords, imposter sites negatively impact your organic search traffic. Another common practice is for counterfeiters to run their own search advertising campaigns to promote their fake products.
By leveraging Brand Intelligence data, your Marketing team can have visibility on the keywords counterfeiters are using to drive traffic to their fake listings. With this information, your Marketing team can make smart decisions for your company’s strategy, and ultimately make your advertising dollars go a long way. Paying to rank for your own brand name on search engines not only reduces counterfeiters’ ability to rip your brand off, it will also help defend from legal competitors drawing traffic from your brand name to their own website.
You know the hours, months, and years that go into creating a new product. It’s not easy.
That’s why protecting your brand is also about protecting your creative investment. Your company has put the work into building the product, and it should be able to reap the rewards.
By learning from your mistakes, and enhancing your branding-related issues, you can constantly improve your product offerings. What’s next for your product? A new generation? A different and complementary item? An automated platform lets you keep the wheels of creative design rolling ahead into the future.
In addition to time, cash flow is also very valuable for an organization. However, counterfeiters can slow that river to a trickle. This happens through the impact of fake products on your market. If there are counterfeiters claiming to have your product for sale at half the price, then it’s inevitable that a substantial number of your customers will choose the fake – whether they know it’s fake or not.
For example, let’s say you sold 1000 items in a period. In the same period, counterfeiters sold 200. Chances are, a significant number of those 200 people would buy the real thing if the counterfeit wasn’t available to them. That means you could have many more sales in this situation. Imagine how your sales targets and bottom line could be positively impacted. You could be directly impacting your growth with these additional sales.
Many brand protection strategies still focus on bulk seizures, customs training and border protection. However, offline practices are slow. Though these offline strategies are still important, they need to be augmented with online tools to combat fakes today. The synergy between analog and digital techniques can effectively uncover and combat counterfeit networks in the modern world.
New digital investigative techniques are needed because infringers are constantly trying to evade capture. For example, many counterfeit sellers now use text overlayed on their product images. By doing this, they can provide product and contact details to human shoppers but avoid bots that search text for keywords. In situations like this, Optical Character Recognition (OCR) is needed to scan images for words when a text-based search won’t work.
This in itself saves many hours for legal teams that would have spent time manually searching for and logging each offense. With data gathered by technology, brands can choose which next steps to take.