The Red Points guide to brand protection, including intellectual property definitions, forms of brand abuse facing brands, actionable tips for brands looking to stay protected, and more.
Brand protection is the process of protecting the intellectual property (IP) of companies and their associated brands against counterfeiters, copyright pirates, and infringers of other types of IP, such as patents, design rights, color mark and trade dress.
This is done not only to protect the loss of revenue from a company but also to protect a company’s image, reputation and overall value. Fundamentally, brand protection prevents brand abuse.
Brand abuse is an umbrella term which refers generally to an outside party infringing on a brand’s intellectual property in order to take advantage of its well-respected reputation. Brand abuse can come in many forms, including, but not limited to:
Companies need to remain vigilant against any type of brand abuse of which they may become a target. However, the most pervasive and troublesome for brands is counterfeiting.
A counterfeit product imitates the product from an authentic brand, but is made unofficially, by external sources. The fake product will use the logos and trademarks of the authentic brand without permission, in order to deceive customers.
For some perspective, by 2022 the global counterfeiting industry is predicted to be worth $4.2 trillion. To put this in real terms, if counterfeiting were an independent nation, its economy would be around the 4th biggest in the world.
Counterfeiting is just one form of intellectual property infringement, as it specifically targets the trademarks of an authentic brand. So, working against counterfeiting is the primary goal of brand protection agencies.
Rogue websites are sites created for malicious intent, either against a legitimate company or by infringing its IP. They come in a number of variations:
A copyright is the legal protection granted to creators of artistic, literary and scientific works. Brands need to be protective of their copyright, even if they’re not creating art, books or scientific reports. Counterfeiters will copy a product’s authentic photographs and use them to promote and legitimize their own illegal product listings online.
Trademark squatters register trademarks in bad faith. This can come in a number of forms, including foreign registration of marks belonging to brands yet to register abroad, and transliteration issues, like the Jordan/Qiaodan case.
Patents are legal protections given to inventive products which provide an innovative solution to a problem. Inventors who have created a new product are entitled to patent protection, as it forbids outside parties from using their designs, and outside parties infringing on patents will profit from the time and money invested into designing the invention.
Counterfeiting, and forms of IP theft in general, are growing quickly on social media, and are having a large negative effect.
Unofficial third parties create social media accounts imitating authentic brands, then use their fake profiles to sell counterfeits, send users to phishing pages, and sometimes to distribute harmful malware.
The services offered by brand protection providers can be summed up as four general processes:
Finding infringements online, wherever they may be. This can include a counterfeit listing on ecommerce, a rogue website or an impersonating social media profile, along with a number of other forms of infringement.
Ensuring that the products labeled as infringements truly are infringements is an important step. Validation is employed so that authentic companies are not penalized by mistake while trying to enforce IP rights.
Enforcement is the step of actually removing IP infringements online. This includes removing the infringing product listed on an online marketplace, taking down a rogue website, or closing the imitation account from social media.
The final stage of a brand protection service. Reporting refers to presenting information to brands that is useful and actionable, in order to stay aware of the status of intellectual property online, and then to improve the process of brand protection in the future.
With counterfeiters now able to fully take advantage of the capabilities of the internet, the only way the services above can truly be implemented is by taking advantage of modern brand protection technology. There are four key aspects to brand protection software:
The first tool of brand protection is keyword monitoring. Counterfeits sold on ecommerce platforms rely on using specific keywords to appear in listings. For brand protection services, this means programming bots to continuously scour high-risk websites, looking for listings and other content with these keywords. Counterfeiters constantly update and change the keywords used to sell fakes in online marketplace listings, so this step is important for brands to keep up.
Image recognition refers to a type of software which is able to quickly analyze images online. Forms of image recognition vary in complexity. The simpler technology is photo recognition, which can search and find matching images. The most complex form is object recognition, which is able to find physical objects within a photo regardless of their position or placement within the image.
Machine learning is the ability of computers, using systems called neural networks, to repeatedly identify patterns and correlations in data, in order to create more precise and reliable search parameters. Once these new parameters are created, programs of keyword monitoring and image recognition are able to function more effectively, improvements can be made continually.
Brand protection is to be used by brands. Therefore, it’s important that the user experience is simple to understand and easy to use. Adopting a modern brand protection service saves a huge amount of time and money compared to hiring a team of lawyers. However, if that service requires the brand to spend hours going through complex data, then there is little advantage over simply employing legal personnel. A smart brand protection service must filter out unimportant details, and only show users the details they need to make decisions quickly.
The problems caused by counterfeiters targeting a legitimate brand are more numerous and deeper reaching than many brands understand. Counterfeiting does not simply mean a few people are making money as an isolated black market venture. Rather, the impacts on brands can be quite severe:
Knowing how to keep intellectual property protected is essential knowledge for many brands. Counterfeiters are persistent when targeting companies they think they can profit from, and will use any and every tactic at their disposal to stay in business.
There are a number of strategies that brands can implement to help them in the fight against infringers, both offline and in the online world.
If you sell a trademarked product, then you are potentially at risk of counterfeiting, and you need to seriously consider employing a brand protection strategy.
Having said that, there are three main types of companies that are at an especially high risk of being targeted by counterfeiters: product innovators, brand value companies and design-focused companies.
The reason these types of companies are so commonly at risk of counterfeiting is that of the huge investment of time and effort they put into building a respected brand, running their products’ research and development, and carefully designing their products before they’re even launched.
Innovative, young, companies that sell a market-disrupting product. Companies like these require a lot of ingenuity and creativity, as well as funding into research and development in many cases, to create a product that is simple to use, but that solves a common problem in a way no other company has been able to.
Check out Food Huggers’ story to see how an innovative company protects their brand online.
Well-established and respected companies that rely on the strength of their trademarks to sell product lines. Brand value companies rely on years of carefully building their brand recognition, reputation, and style to make their products popular, respected and recognizable.
Companies that excel in creating ergonomic and aesthetically-pleasing products. They require a creative, artistic eye to be able to design products with elegance and beauty.
Artful lighting designers, David Trubridge, know all too well the risks a design-focused brand can face against counterfeiters.