Pointer BP provides an online brand protection solution with an impact. Read more on our passion and how we developed a strategy that makes a difference. Pointer Brand Protection blog provides you with articles about the latest topic of Brand Protection, Anti-counterfeiting, GDPR, Intellectual Property, etc
In an interesting turn of events, we recently took on our own infringement case when a peripheral competitor of ours decided to implement a sneaky marketing campaign that involved our brand name, and thus our branded keyword, Pointer Brand Protection. By using our trademarked name, this competitor attempted to thwart our website traffic for their own benefit. But, of course, we wouldn’t let that happen without a fight.
We thought we could use this experience as a teachable moment by writing a case study about the takedown process of our own infringement case. Using our Paid Search Protect module, we managed to remove the infringing ad efficiently, relieving any damage. Conclusively, we found the most damage that our competitor managed to impose was the damage done to their own brand. We had to ask, what kind of a brand protection provider decides to actively infringe on another brand? Though we took this matter seriously, the irony was surely not lost on us.
Football has some of the most dedicated fans in the world, as evidenced by the statistics indicating that half of the global population is interested in the sport. From La Liga to EUFA to League 1, individual football clubs have amassed enormous and dedicated followings from all over the world. Our friends at Back Four crafted an infographic that displays which clubs have the biggest online followings across all major social media platforms. Which begs the question, does having a large fan following expose clubs to more counterfeit attacks? In our newest whitepaper, we address whether there’s a correlation between having a large fanbase and being exposed to an increased amount of counterfeiters.
With social media being a prevalent part of our society, it’s impossible to ignore the vulnerabilities that the platforms invoke. They provide clear access for counterfeiters to target and engage with fans based on the teams they follow online. Considering these facts, it’s never been easier for counterfeiters to find the exact demographic to whom they can peddle their merchandise.
The good news is, we have a solution for that! Our Social Media Protect solution covers all major social media platforms as well as those more popular in local areas. Combining our advanced software with our experienced team of international legal analysts and investigators, we’re able to track, monitor, and remove infringing social media posts that are damaging your brand. Whether you’re the biggest sports team in the world or a local club looking for some online protection, we’ve got you covered. Learn more about our social media solution here.
The Asian eCommerce market has grown into a thriving and unstoppable force. With nearly 1.4 billion people in China, it comes as no surprise that they boast the largest eCommerce market in the world. This year alone, China is expected to amass €871 billion in revenue from its eCommerce platforms, surpassing the US which is expected to reach €526 billion in revenue in 2019. By a massive margin, Alibaba reigns as the biggest eCommerce platform in the world, taking in roughly 80% of China’s online sales. Of course, the more popular the platform, the more criminals there are lurking behind counterfeit listings. It’s important to be aware of the platforms, how they work, and their policies surrounding counterfeit listings.
However, there are more players in the Asian market than China alone. Vietnam’s eCommerce market is growing at a rapid pace, for instance, and the Korean and Indian markets are also building notoriety for themselves. This blog post, though, will be taking a look at the densely-populated, fashion-forward Japan, and specifically which online platforms are the most prominent in Japan. Listed below are the top five eCommerce platforms in Japan.
Rakuten – Rakuten Ichiba still sits as the most popular eCommerce platform in Japan, but eCommerce isn’t all they do. With over 70 business ventures, they also have a stake in digital content, communications, FinTech, and so much more. They host Japan’s largest online bank as well as the number one credit card company in the country. They are no doubt a force to be reckoned with on the global scale, operating in 29 countries and raking in €7.5 billion in 2017.
Rakuten Anti-Counterfeiting Efforts: In 2007, Rakuten launched a program called the Rakuten “Quality Assurance” Shopping Service which cooperated with brands to ensure the authenticity of the products being listed on their platform. They work with over 1,100 brands in Japan to keep the counterfeiters at bay.
Amazon Japan – Japan recently bumped up as the second-largest foreign market for Amazon, with Germany taking the runner-up position. Amazon Japan has seen immense growth in regional popularity over the last few years. They’re also the most successful international retailer in the nation by becoming the first foreign firm to surpass 1 trillion Japanese yen, which translates to nearly 8 billion euro. They’ve invested a great amount in setting up a local distribution network in the country, simplifying the accessibility of their vendors to their online retailing. In 2017, they managed to amass more than €11 million in revenue.
Amazon Anti-Counterfeiting Efforts: Though they abide by only selling authentic goods, they also state on their website: “It is each seller’s and supplier’s responsibility to source, sell, and fulfill only authentic products.” Though, if they find out an item breaches their standards, they will rectify it by removing and terminating the account.
Yahoo Japan Shopping – Though Yahoo Japan’s eCommerce platform dipped by 5% in their revenue over 2017, they still took in a whopping €491 million in operating profit, placing them as one of the most popular online marketplaces in Japan.
Yahoo Japan Anti-counterfeiting Efforts: On their website, they state that they have implemented “control measures and system enhancements” to better protect their customers, as well as taking measures to preserve the IP rights of the rights holders. They’ve partnered with a number of third parties to actively combat counterfeit listings, but awareness should still be maintained.
Kakaku.com – Unlike our previous three listings, the next eCommerce site on the list has a rather different approach to online shopping services. Kakaku is a Japanese price aggregator website and is touted as the “price comparison king.” Unlike a traditional online marketplace, Kakaku offers shoppers detailed price comparison’s so they can easily find the best deals. Once a shopper finds their preferred item, they are then redirected to the online store where they can directly by the item. Founded in 1997, it’s had a steady pace of growth throughout the previous two decades. Their revenue until March 2018 is listed at €371.5 million.
Kakaku Anti-Counterfeiting Efforts: Not much can be said of their anti-counterfeiting efforts, as there is no noted policy on their website. Keep in mind, they are still accountable for counterfeit listings because the trademark is used on their website in the course of trade.
Zozotown – Focusing solely on apparel, Zozotown sneaks in at the number five spot on Japan’s most popular eCommerce platforms, with a market cap just under €8 billion. Founded in Tokyo in 2004, Zozotown has gone on to become Japan’s largest online fashion retailer, besting out close competitor Uniqlo.
Zozotown Anti-Counterfeiting Efforts: In perusing some message boards, it appears that some shoppers have encountered fakes on Zozotown before, but their website doesn’t appear to state anything about potential counterfeit concerns.
With the top three platforms—Rakuten, Amazon Japan, and Yahoo Shopping Japan—accounting for roughly half of the country’s total annual eCommerce revenue, shoppers may assume there’s safety in numbers. However, their online shopping experience can be easily disrupted. So, now that you know the top five eCommerce platforms in Japan, it’s also important to always be aware of potential counterfeiters across all eCommerce platforms, no matter their size and popularity. If you’re searching online for your next big purchase, but you find the listing suspicious in any way, you can always report it with us. We’ll look into the listing on your behalf to ensure a safe online shopping experience for everyone.
Brand protection can be an alien concept to some businesses, not because there is anything fundamentally difficult about it but because it doesn’t always fit neatly into traditional organizational charts.
The familiar company chart that many businesses use as a model outlines specific roles that have become enshrined in business practice. The Managing Director, for example, bears responsibility for leadership but is less concerned with specific detail. Function directors oversee areas such as Finance, HR, Marketing, Sales and Operations, which are all complemented by the work of managers and employee operatives.
Nowhere in this traditional scheme, however, is there space for a position which cuts across Legal, Financial, Operations and Communications: This is the work of the brand protection Specialist.
Brand protection requires work that is, by its nature, cross-functional. It needs someone who isn’t just a dabbler, but who understands the varied disciplines of intellectual property, merchandising, distribution, social media and a range of other related fields.
If your business wants to increase its brand protection efforts though, even within the most traditional organizational structures, there are tasks which every role can contribute.
Manufacturing, Quality Control and Sales
Your employees are your brand champions. They spend more time with your products than anyone else and will be among the quickest to spot fakes in the marketplace, so make sure they’re aware of the brand protection function within your business:
– Do you have a company newsletter or email roundup which highlights your good wins against counterfeiters? This can encourage staff to contribute more information about places where they’ve seen possible fakes worth investigating.
– Is staff training on distinguishing between genuine and fake products provided? Educated employees can provide extra sets of eyes out in the real world when time and resources are limited.
– Does your brand protection specialist provide updates to your business on the number of goods seized or removed online? This can be a great motivator for businesses trying to boost official sales.
Sales and Marketing Managers, Legal Counsel and HR
Business function managers need to communicate effectively with their directors, with their staff and especially with each other. Without good communication between sections of your management there are likely to be delayed and missed opportunities which can allow fakes into the market and drain profitability:
– Are your managers speaking to each other? Some areas of work such as Marketing and Sales naturally align, but what about Legal and Sales, for example? Without sight of what sells well in a given territory, your Legal department may not have the best view of which trade marks they should be registering. Likewise, without any knowledge of what your intellectual property portfolio looks like the Sales team may be less well informed about problems in overseas markets.
– Who is delivering staff training? To maximize awareness of brand protection throughout your business, anti-counterfeiting and product recognition training can be a great way to encourage departments to learn from one another. Managers may want to invite speakers from other departments or to arrange a regular programme of training which will keep all members of the business up to date.
Sales, Marketing, Finance and Legal Directors
What should the bosses be doing to assist with brand protection, and who is going to tell them? Well, everyone should tell them because they may need feedback. As has been said above, brand protection can be a multi-layered and often neglected area which suffers from being spread across too many departments. In order to lead properly, directors should have adequate oversight across all business areas, so the advice on this one is very simple. If you’re a director then ask your people, all of them. Solicit their advice on what problems may exist and ask what possible solutions people in different departments may have; it’s up to you to put it all together. If you’re not a director then make sure you tell them what the problems are and be prepared to contribute to how your area of work can make improvements to the process.
Let’s finish, however, with the most important person, the customer.
Particularly for companies who sell direct to consumers and who rely heavily on their branding (fashion, FMCG, consumer tech), encouraging your customers to work with you on brand protection matters is crucial. What can you do?
– Have you posted a brand protection information webpage on your website? This can be an excellent resource for showing the differences between genuine and counterfeit goods. It’s wrong to assume that all buyers of counterfeits are intentionally buying fakes, many are simply naïve.
– A brand protection webpage can also be a good place to encourage consumers to contact you with details of questionable sellers and websites. With their own anonymity protected, customers often feel freer to divulge these details. You may even be surprised how often manufacturers and sellers of fake goods are keen to turn in the names of others doing the same thing!
-Are you using your social media channels to encourage sales of official merchandise? Education can be one of the best tools in the brand protection armory, and creating interesting and compelling content can boost consumer loyalty.
If all of this seems beyond the reach of a single department or individual for your company though, there’s a simpler solution that all of our clients have come to trust and rely upon. If you’ve got these problems then why not call in the experts to act as a trusted partner? Speak to Pointer today for advice on what we can do to help with your brand protection efforts.
An innovative attack scores big for Pointer clients
One of our talented brand protection analysts managed to uncover a mass amount of domains coming from the same owner, otherwise known as a cluster. Overall, there were roughly 28,000 domains found and submitted for takedowns.
How did we crack it?
One of our dedicated brand protection analysts noticed a large number of peculiar domains which were selling one of our client’s products. After asking our investigations team to look into the websites in case they found anything suspicious, it was decided that they were, in fact, rather suspicious. They found that certain parts of the websites—for example, the shipping and returns pages—were identical on every site. These similarities in the website design and content indicated that they were owned and operated by the same domain holder, which is indicative of a counterfeit ring.
After the initial results were in, we then started scraping for the brand names of our other clients on the landing pages of these domains and uncovered 2,446 domains selling one of our biggest client’s products, 1,687 domains from another large client, as well as a host of other results that infringed on a large number of our smaller-to-medium sized clients. By adapting our searches to different settings, we ended up scouring more than just the front page of listings in order to find out which domain name was offering which brand, allowing us to provide our individual clients with better results. As an example of the individual results due to this breakthrough, we were able to more than double the total number of domains in one of our client’s databases.
These results and approach are especially useful for smaller clients as they can identify and ultimately, remove a large amount of infringing domains all at once. However, as a whole, this is a great accomplishment in terms of establishing a new scraping method and uncovering a new big player in the counterfeiting world.
The next steps
Identifying clusters always feels like a break in a cold case. It’s thrilling to know that a major player in the counterfeiting industry has been identified and dealt with, but we also know that this isn’t the end for this particular seller. When the infringer has a large stock of counterfeit products, they’re not going to give up without a fight. We’re anticipating that they’re going to attempt to develop more avenues to sell their stock. However, with their data collected and their tactics laid bare, we’re prepared for their next move. And in this breath, we will still be searching for more related domains to investigate how these particular sellers are operating.
Have you spotted a fake?
If you think you might have come across a fake domain, you can inform us through our website here. We’ll do the investigating to ensure that your online shopping experience is a safe one. By submitting a suspicious listing or website, you also help us build our database of infringers, allowing us to be even more thorough in our searches and potentially lead us to more breakthroughs like the one mentioned above. You, too, can be a part of the solution by helping us defend hard-working brands while making online shopping a safe, enjoyable experience for everyone involved.
Although legal, brand protection and anti-counterfeiting professionals differ greatly in their opinions and approaches, one commonly agreed principle is that start-up businesses need intellectual property registrations. Whether you require trademarks, patents or copyright to protect yourself and your profits against intellectual property theft, getting those legally enforceable rights is a must.
Yet, particularly for start-ups, young businesses and those looking to expand internationally, the biggest problem with protecting your brand may not be what trademarks you have, or even how big your counterfeiting problem is…
Controversial though it may be, the biggest problem for you may be…you!
We all know that the criminals who steal other people’s hard work are the true culprits here, but we also know that they exist and so taking steps to combat them before they become a problem should be high on the agenda of every new business. After all, as the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. And if there’s one thing you can rely on in business it’s that if you’re successful you’ll be copied.
So, just as every small business needs to have a strategy for how it’s going to grow, every brand which designs, registers and markets any intellectual property should consider brand protection from a long-term perspective rather than as an afterthought.
A fruity example
John and June Jarvis decide to start their own company, a revolutionary new fruit which crosses a banana with an apple. Predictably, they decide to call it a “Banapple”. They take some advice and because they only have one product, and they’ve only planned to manufacture, market and trade in the UK, this is where they register a single trademark for their name. They’re happy with this because it saves them time and money in the short term.
Before too long, John and June’s hard work pays off and the Banapple is a hit! Not only does everybody want one but other manufacturers are starting to wonder why they can’t get in on the action too. The market is limited to one supplier though and so there are crowds of imitators who create similar sounding products. Eventually, the similarities merge into the original and the marketplace becomes swamped with inferior copies with exactly the same name.
Six months down the line and the market is saturated with cheap copies and poor quality imitations. Consumer confidence is ruined because of some high-profile bad experiences, and the carefully planned distribution networks and publicity drive which the couple had created are undermined. Orders have started to run dry in their home country but they can’t now even export the idea abroad because another company has registered their trademark ahead of them.
What could they have done better?
While this is an extreme hypothetical example, many growing brands have been curtailed by their failure to plan for the success of their products and the likely infringements which follow. Our advice is to give yourself the best possible chance of combating counterfeiters by considering brand protection from the very beginning of your business’ lifecycle. Here are a few steps you may want to consider in order to get ahead of the game. As ever though, there’s no substitute for the expertise and here at Pointer we specialize in helping businesses to realize their fullest potential by protecting their intellectual property. Why not speak with our experts today?
– Get registered. If you haven’t already done so then get your intellectual property registrations in order as soon as possible. It should be on your urgent checklist along with setting up a bank account and a business address! Even if it’s just your company name and you don’t have complicated logo marks or associated terms, there’s no excuse for not having control of your brand from the very beginning.
– Look to the future. Although you may only have one product line or sales territory right now, is this likely to change? If there are countries you want to sell to (or manufacture in) later on then you may need to consider just how long it takes to get a trademark in place there. It’s important to be aware from the start that intellectual property is protected by means of geographic and product differences. The marks you register early on may not protect you down the line when your business grows.
– Watch the numbers. If growth and international expansion do occur then bear in mind how important your own records can be in fighting the fakes. By consulting sales figures on a regular basis you will gain the fullest picture of where your sales are strongest, weakest and where a substantial difference may indicate that your once loyal customers have started to fall victim to imitators. Quantify where you have the biggest problems and work with a trusted partner to find the best ways to solve them.
– Be strategic. At Pointer we regularly perform landscape assessments for existing and potential clients. By having reliable data on the countries and online platforms where your brand is being most frequently abused you’ll be in the best position to find the most cost-effective and direct solution. Don’t take a scattergun approach to bash down every listing you see as it pops up, instead, take a measured view which lets you see where the true problems are and act accordingly.
Disclaimer: ALWAYS TAKE LEGAL ADVICE ON TRADEMARKS
There’s a quote by American film producer, Robert Evans, that goes, “there are three sides to every story: your side, my side, and the truth.” Perspective is important—and that’s in every given situation, including when considering the counterfeiting industry as a whole. Which is why we’re taking a moment to look at counterfeiting from a different vantage point: from behind the counter.
The inspiration for this blog post came from an interview posted on HANNAH, a replica handbag review site. The interview was conducted through email with the owner of a replica handbag store. In it, the subject gripes about the difficulties of his domain being shut down every few months, along with some feeble attempts at pathos by explaining how the sale of counterfeit goods is a game of trust. He then makes the (grand) claim that 98% of counterfeit sellers are honest salesmen and saleswomen.
It must be said: we understand the appeal of the counterfeiting industry. Authentic brands can be expensive and it’s natural for consumers to want to take part in the newest trends. There is a great demand for cheap products and, with access to cheap labor, producing and selling counterfeit goods can generate great profits for the top honchos in the business. We recognize the allure of such a business venture. And, though we certainly can’t fault struggling individuals who see a financial opportunity that could potentially drastically improve their lives, we must question their moral compass. Everyone has their reasons for selling and purchasing counterfeit goods, and we would be remiss not to recognize the individual motivations that drive these decisions. But we ask those involved in the continuation of the counterfeiting industry to do as we just did: to set aside their personal desires and affiliations and think about those affected by the production of counterfeit goods. In most circumstances, there are real, human lives at stake.
What the store owners perhaps don’t realize or don’t want to admit, is that the counterfeiting industry ultimately comes down to varying degrees of corruption. Yes, there are immense economical impacts, but more importantly, there are humanitarian impacts. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has released a thorough report that details the extent of counterfeiting’s reach. In it, they cover the effects that counterfeiting has on organized crime and gangs, as well as the consequences concerning its environmental impact, threat to public health and safety, and labor exploitation. And though we understand that every vendor has their own reasons for dealing in the criminal trade, we don’t believe their gains are worth the global impact. As the report states, “the illicit trafficking of counterfeit goods is a crime which touches virtually everyone in one way or another.”
The report goes on to identify the most commonly sold counterfeit products per industry, and, subsequently, the problems that the individual industries encounter when afflicted by fake products. It paints a very accurate picture of how far-reaching the effects of counterfeiting are in a condense and easy-to-read report. Among the major takeaways is the statistic that 57% of counterfeit seizures made at European borders comprised of clothing, accessories and shoes. Based on that fact, it would appear that the human cost of cheap clothing comes at a pretty high price.
Good intentions, criminal offenses
This article is not intended to shame counterfeit store owners for trying to make a living. We simply believe it’s important to understand the consequences of these actions—both for the vendors themselves as well as public consumers. Making a choice such as selling or buying counterfeit goods has a ripple effect, touching lives all across the world. And though the vendors of inauthentic merchandise are usually not caricatures of evil, vicious antagonists, they are consciously making criminal choices. There is a lack of social responsibility that accompanies individuals who deal in counterfeit goods, which directly contradicts Pointer’s personal values and company vision.
With a variety of solutions for brands of all sizes who are continuously being impaired by counterfeiters, we combine our expert service with a sophisticated software to combat the online perpetrators. However, we also aim to help consumers navigate their way through safe online shopping. In this vein, we have a Report a Fake page on our website if you’re in doubt about a particular item. Our team of investigators will expertly deduce whether the item is indeed a fake or a legitimate item, so you harbor no responsibility in the takedown of authentic products. Though, if you’re in doubt about an item’s authenticity, it’s always safer to refrain from purchasing it. Another useful tip is to always buy directly from the brand themselves. Buying directly often gives you access to all the perks, including warranty and customer care. Ultimately, awareness is a key component in making online purchases, no matter what side of the fight you’re on. What matters is you know what you’re buying, byproducts and all.
Second chances aren’t a common occurrence in brand protection. In fact, that’s for a reason; we make an effort to ensure that they don’t take place. Once we track down a perpetrator, we keep tabs on them to make sure they don’t continue to engage in their illegal activities. We don’t think criminals should get a second chance to sell their illegal products, however, we do believe in second chances for redemption. And if you’re anything like us, then perhaps January wasn’t all you planned it to be. The good news is you’re in luck: today, February 5th, is Chinese New Year—the perfect opportunity for a second chance at your New Year’s resolutions.
With the gargantuan Asian holiday in mind, we find it fitting that a number of our own resolutions have a deep tie-in with China. As you may have heard by now, we have recently established an extra-special affiliation with China by opening up a new office in Shanghai. Due to the ever-increasing popularity of Chinese online marketplaces, like TaoBao and Alibaba, we saw an opportunity to gain more control over the Asian market. Over the past ten years, we’ve already managed to establish healthy relationships with these online marketplaces, allowing us to efficiently enforce takedown requests in a timely manner. In addition to our strong bonds with the marketplaces themselves, we’re also looking forward to having more direct contact with our clients in Asia now that we have full-time Pointer representatives based there. Though it’s still quite new for us, we consider the expansion a feat of 2018, which is why we’re eager for what lies ahead in 2019.
The Year of the Pig
A little background information: it’s long been speculated that the Chinese New Year was originally associated with the Chinese agricultural cycle. And it’s also called the Lunar New Year because the dates are chosen based upon the cycle of the moon and the earth’s rotation around the sun. A major differentiator between the Gregorian New Year (what most western countries follow) and the Chinese one is that the Chinese New Year follows a 12-year cycle, where each year has a different animal representative. Last year was the Year of the Dog, and next year is the Year of the Rat, but this year we’re welcoming the Year of the Pig. So what exactly does that mean?
Thankfully, the Chinese view of a pig differs greatly from most western perspectives. Unlike the gluttonous, filthy, mud-dwelling swine that we in the western world see, the Chinese see pigs as a symbol of wealth and fortune, above all else. Their stately size is interpreted more as a side-effect of their pleasant indulgence in life’s offerings than it is about gluttony. Basically, the year of the pig is actually supposed to be indicative of a rather positive year ahead.
In a business sense, this means good fortune and more wealth—which we’re more than happy to accept. But we at Pointer, have our sights set on a different year ahead: we’re actively working towards a Year of the Machines.
Year of the Machines
Our business focus for this year is going to be on improving our machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies. With our sights set on automating certain parts of our software, we can then focus our attention on analyzing the gathered data and developing more solutions for the new trends that are constantly evolving. The nature of the brand protection business is a little like a cat-and-mouse game. We take down infringers, and those infringers, in turn, adapt to our methods of detection and develop a new strategy that skirts our systems, which then means that we must also constantly adapt. It’s a vicious circle of detect-enforce-adapt, but this year, we’re looking to change that.
Instead of constantly defending with an offense—tracking the infringers based on their listings—we’re looking to analyze all the data we’ve already accumulated and use AI to find clusters, patterns, and trends that will allow us to be ahead of the online perpetrators. We already have some new systems in place in our software, but this year will bring many more developments concerning automation and interpretation of data. Much like the Chinese pig, we’re looking forward to making the most of the year ahead, which will eventually bring us—and more importantly, our clients—the good fortune we’re working towards.
Gone are the days when consumers actually visited their favourite shops. Not only has online shopping replaced window shopping, but it has also opened a Pandora’s box of trading – and shoppers have welcomed it without hesitation. It also turns out that the authenticity of online offers is rarely questioned.
The counterfeit industry is one of a kind: it makes a fortune out of fake goods, while free-riding on the reputation of well-known brands. According to the Global Brand Counterfeiting Report 2018 by Research and Markets, the total counterfeiting activity for 2017 amounts to “1.2 Trillion USD and is bound to reach 1.82 Trillion USD by the year 2020”. It would be easy to illustrate the magnitude of this amount by comparing it to the expected gross domestic product of Canada for 2019 – $1.85 trillion, according to Focus Economics. Online shopping has become a labyrinth, in which many have lost their way and suffered under scams conveniently premeditated by anonymous hands thanks the convenience of fake social media profiles.
Fighting online counterfeiting is the digital world’s biggest battle to date. As in any war-like scenario, brand owners must build a successful strategy to combat the online IP plague. Hold on tight and enjoy the ride!
Why is it important?
Brand owners should anticipate the next hot forms of communication which counterfeiters will use to kick-start their illegal businesses. After intermediary liability for internet service providers was introduced in the United States and Europe, counterfeiters gradually shifted their efforts towards social networks – but why social media?
The reasons are economically driven: creating a profile on social media is free, with no fees necessary for domain set-up and maintenance. Social media networks are also easy to use and accessible on any operational system. There is also an attractive privacy aspect: the only personal information requiring verification is an email address or phone number, as opposed to extensive WHOIS information provided by a domain owner. Almost anything can be manufactured by a scammer without creating a financial burden.
There is no doubt why the UK Intellectual Property Office called social media the “most distinctive medium for communication” for counterfeit businesses and a “breeding ground” for counterfeit goods (July 2017). Recent developments suggest the same. In May 2018 joint investigations by Europol’s Intellectual Property Crime Coordinated Coalition, the Italian Guardia di Finanza and law enforcement authorities from nine EU member states closed 10,000 online shops over different social media platforms. This operation – the biggest enforcement action ever – underlined the dangerous nature of social networks and the need to educate and warn consumers of criminal networks on social media.
Globally, Facebook still holds the first place with 2.2 billion active users as of April 2018 (Statista), followed by Instagram and WeChat. These three social networks, although essentially different in nature, have the propensity to adapt to the current legal landscape.
Changes and developments
New face of Facebook
Undoubtedly, Facebook is the social media leader and logically online retail is big on this network. As a result, the platform has adopted new features, taking online business to new heights.
Facebook targeted advertising: This tool is business-oriented. Anyone can place an advertisement for their webshop here, depending on the desired target group based on age, gender, relationship status, territory and interests. Facebook detects all websites visited while logged onto Facebook and adjusts the displayed adverts according to the user’s tastes.
Facebook Marketplace: Released in 2016 and significantly expanded in 2017, Facebook Marketplace is a feature dedicated to sales taking place within a specific geographic area. Since June 2018, it allows users to pay to promote their listings. Facebook Marketplace is an add-on to the already existing Facebook application. CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that 800 million people in 70 countries are now using Marketplace to promote their goods.
Insta-fever – how Instagram came to stay
It is safe to say that Instagram is a massive hit. Having reached the 1 billion monthly global community in June 2018, it has become the fastest growing social platform at a rate of almost 5% per quarter. Its attractive layout and hashtag function enables users to find exactly what they look for in no time. Then again, “the owls are not what they seem”: the visually eye-catching picture storage platform has had to run an extra mile to achieve this success.
Instant-shopping feature: Instagram shopping is now live – ‘See. Tap. Shop’ – although it is still in a testing phase and limited to only several countries. It grants users the opportunity to explore products ‘with a single tap’. Tapping on a product will show the user:
an image of the product from the post;
a description of the product;
how much the product costs; and
an external link that takes the user directly to the website where the product is sold.
This feature is meant to provide a faster path to purchasing. Companies that have tested the new ‘shopping basket’ have announced increases from 25% to 40% in website traffic and some notable increases in revenue.
IGTV: Introduced in June 2018, IGTV is a new app within Instagram allowing users to watch long-form videos. This means videos are no longer limited to one minute; users can now upload videos up to 60 minutes long. Anyone can create a channel and the entire Instagram community can tune in simply by opening the app.
Follow the hashtag: The option of following specific hashtags of interest was introduced in December 2017 and, according to Instagram, more than 100 million users worldwide use it. The new Explore outlook, divided into different spheres of interest, also suggests hashtags to users.
This is how WeChat
With more than 960 million active users, WeChat has become the most widely used multi-function messaging social media and mobile payment app in China and the fifth most widely used worldwide. Thanks to the huge base of active users, it is also an attractive playground for counterfeiters.
Private sellers and public profiles: A user can open a private account by providing only a phone number. In addition, an official or public account can be applied for where the registered user can publish posts, attract followers, send push notifications or redirect followers to an external website. Both types of account can be accessed by a unique QR code. From a counterfeiter’s viewpoint, this is a cost-effective way to build an infringing social network and distribution channels.
For personal accounts, a counterfeiter can post online images of products with a QR code attached and interested buyers can scan that code to find the seller and request details. In addition, there is a feature called ‘Moment (朋友圈)’ which offers products for sale. However, only WeChat users who are on the seller’s contact list can see the posts and get in touch for more information.
For official accounts, posts are usually visible to the public and infringers post huge sale promotions to attract customers who are responsive to prices. However, even in such cases, it does not mean that the seller is completely exposed to the public. More often than not, customers which show interest in a post must still contact the sellers personally, meaning that the transactions remain secret.
Mini program: Launched in 2017, mini programs are now one of the most eye-catching features embedded in WeChat. According to the latest report, the total number of WeChat mini programs has climbed to 1 million, with 1 billion users globally. Simply put, a mini program is an application that can be run instantly within WeChat.
With mini programs sellers can offer products in new ways, such as through group-buying deals. For instance, WeChat users in a certain group chat can buy some products together and enjoy discounts from 10% to 50%. As a result, more brands have decided to launch their own mini programs on WeChat.
Breaking Bad – from trends to threats
Challenges and threats to IP rights are affected by time, efficiency and user-friendliness.
Compliance rates of notice and takedown requests: For the first time, Facebook published a comprehensive transparency report on IP infringements displaying takedown request data for 2017. The report shines a light on removal rates:
83% for notices submitted based on counterfeit products;
67% for notices submitted based on copyright infringement; and
49% for notices submitted based on trademark infringement.
Both rights holders and agents can report violations to Facebook and Instagram.
When it comes to WeChat, the platform removes the infringing content. In the strictest cases, such as those involving repeat infringers, WeChat may decide to restrict certain account features or temporarily block the account. A permanent block is also possible, but is rarely seen. Even if blocked, the user can still register a new profile with a different phone number, making enforcement against infringement on WeChat more like a ‘whack-a-mole’ game.
Another example is paid Instagram and Facebook advertisements. The occurrence of such advertisements is usually based on location, cookies and preferences. This imposes restrictions on the ability to locate infringing advertisements and viewing these on another device. Advertisements do not allow users to copy the digital location of advertisements. Additionally, there is no effective way of reporting advertisements on either platform by third parties (eg, brand protection agents).
Privacy also makes a difference on WeChat. Posts on personal accounts are visible only to the user’s contacts, which poses a real challenge for detecting infringement. For rights holders, they must send out a request to the user, and the posts are visible only on approval.
In special cases, if the user’s profile includes sensitive keywords (eg, 1:1 replicas or high-quality replicas) the account can be reported without the need to see the seller’s posts. However, such cases are a drop in the ocean compared to the huge number of infringing sellers.
Reporting difficulties: Listings on Facebook Marketplace can be easily reported through the online counterfeit report form. However, Facebook does not block the seller from the Marketplace – there is more to it. Whereas a user or page can be blocked when posting a large number of counterfeit items, it is not possible when the large amount is posted only on the Marketplace. This places restrictions on the ability to report infringements, as there is a large amount of infringing content on the Marketplace. This became increasingly important as the platform started allowing paid promotions in June 2018.
As for WeChat, online reporting is time consuming. At this current stage, reporting methods for official accounts and mini programs are different from those for personal accounts. When reporting an infringing official account or mini program, the complaint must address company name, business ID, address and contact information. It must also upload required supporting files, copies of business certificate and IP rights. The form must be printed, sealed, scanned and uploaded to the system.
Complaints against personal accounts can be filed under ‘promoting for sale of counterfeits’, where the brand which the counterfeit product infringes against can be selected by explaining the complaint reason and uploading screenshots of dialogue with the seller. The complaint will go to the brand owner’s inbox in the online reporting system. However, the brand owner must join the IP protection programme in the first place. The brand owner can review the reported products and decide whether they are counterfeits. Once the reported product is confirmed as a counterfeit by brand owners, WeChat will take over and decide if any action needs to be taken against the account.
Potential weak spot: IGTV can impose significant threats on rights holders. The shopping feature can speed up the process of seeing an offer to buying it on a website in just minutes. Not to mention that this feature can feed the assumption that the items are genuine.
This new feature has the potential to put copyright owners at great risk, as the length of videos that can be posted can reach an hour.
Recommendations for brand owners
What next? There is light at the end of the tunnel.
Commerce & Ads IP Tool
Facebook has created a shortcut for reporting infringements, the Commerce & Ads IP Tool. It is designed exclusively for brand owners and allows them to search for their registered trademarks in advertisements, Marketplace posts and ‘for sale’ groups. All brands need to do is fill out an online form (www.facebook.com/help/contact/423912757973851) and submit the relevant documents. The only downside is that this feature is not open to third parties and agents.
Weixin brand protection platform
WeChat provides brand owners with the possibility to create an account in order to report IP rights violations or review flagged cases by individual WeChat accounts (www.wechatlegal.net/). The brand can also appoint a liaison person, within the company or an agent, to review the escalated complaints. After confirming that the items are counterfeit, WeChat has the final say on whether the infringing product will be removed. Compared to Facebook’s tool, WeChat has opened up to third parties and left brand owners filtering the infringing cases that they want to report.
There is a strong need for a direct line of communication between brand owners and social networks. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution and effort to meet each other halfway is required from both ends.
Leo Yan is a qualified lawyer in China. He graduated with an LLM in IP law from Maastricht University. As a brand protection analyst specialising in China and Asia-Pacific, Mr Yan deals with various types of IP infringement taking place in Asian-Pacific market places and on social media platforms. For most of the brand owners, China and Asia-Pacific are the regions most concerned with brand protection. Mr Yan has a solid legal background and significant IP knowledge and is good at tailoring brand protection solutions for different brands.
Zlatka Koleva completed her legal studies in the Netherlands at the University of Groningen and the Erasmus University Rotterdam. She concentrated on cross-border IP infringements in her final LLM thesis and developed her skills and knowledge in the CopyrightX course by Harvard Law School on a tuition waiver. Ms Koleva specialises in providing brand protection advice, as well as lobbying and legal project management in collaboration with the European Commission, the EU Intellectual Property Office and Europol. She is responsible for revising brand protection strategy for some of the biggest sports brands in the world.
Veerle Bregman is a social media expert at Pointer with solid experience in a number of social networks globally. She has a law degree from the Hague University of Applied Sciences and is currently enrolled as a master’s student at the University of Luxembourg, concentrating on communication and media law. Ms Bregman has an extensive background in working with different clients in the sports sector in cooperation with Europol and local law enforcement agencies in the Benelux region.
2018 was a wild ride. We saw our company grow in more ways than one, we expanded our global influence, and we welcomed a whole new roster of clients. Beyond the professional developments, we were witness to a lot of personal growth in our dedicated employees as well. There were highs and lows, transitions between teams, promotions, and an array of personal success stories. We couldn’t be prouder of all that was accomplished in the previous 12 months, but we’re eager to see what the future holds.
However, looking ahead is nearly impossible without taking a moment to assess the past, which is why we’re spending this blog post on summarizing our most impactful moments from 2018—the good, the not so good, and the stand-out moments. If you’re interested in finding out what went on at Pointer this past year, then you’ve come to the right place.
Making a point
We spent a great deal of time in 2018 on establishing ourselves as a global player in the brand protection industry. This meant generating more leads, focusing on our marketing efforts, and attending a lot of events. Throughout the year, we managed to make it out to a number of valuable conferences, summits, and expos, getting to know so many great attendees, and giving passionate presentations to industry-driven individuals. Some of the highlights from these events can still be found online, like our COO’s interview for the 2nd Brand Protection Congress or our CEO’s interview with Reuters. The reason we attend these events is to interact with those involved in the brand protection industry, hear feedback, and stay on top of new trends and expectations. We’ve found these events to be great sources of customer insight and useful resources for business development.
Better with age
Last year marked the 10th anniversary of our company, and we certainly learned a lot in one busy decade. We grew from a bud of an idea to our bustling—and still growing—team of over 100 talented and passionate analysts, designers, lawyers, and skilled individuals. Along with our Amsterdam HQ and our sales office in New York, we also opened an office in Shanghai to better tackle the Asian market. We’re excited about all of our growth, most poignantly because the more people we have joining our team, the better equipped we are to provide the best care for our clients.
Beyond the rapid expansion of our team, we also saw some changes in our software in 2018. We moved our servers in order to improve the scraping capacity and capabilities, we added the option for wildcard searches, plus the addition of our Google Chrome plug-in. Some major milestones included Revlect being patented in the US, as well having streamlined our Customer Success Department to cater to all of our client’s specific needs.
And to top it all off, you may have noticed that our website is looking a little different these days. We were thrilled to unleash our new, sleek website onto the world back in October. We feel that the new design better exemplifies Pointer’s values and reflects our own brand more clearly. If you haven’t had a chance to explore the website, we invite you to check it out—including our informative eBook about how to protect your company on social media, as well as our Buddha to Buddha case study!
Sneak peek from the inside
At Pointer, we not only value our clients, but also our employees. We believe success comes from the inside out, which is why our founders actively participate in creating a great internal atmosphere. As Pointer CEO, Robert Stolk, was eager to share his thoughts on the past year, stating, “Looking back, I believe Pointer’s main focus in 2018 was on professionalizing. We’ve had a lot of growth, both in personnel and in strategy. We set out to build a foundation for the technical improvements we plan to undertake in 2019, like prioritizing sellers based on clustering. We’ve also zeroed in on the most efficient ways to bridge online and offline cases, and how we can better use all the data we’ve collected.” When asked about what he sees in the future for 2019, Stolk digressed, “In 2019, I’m expecting a shift in focus towards our data-driven technologies. We want to really combine everything we’ve learned over the past ten years and use all of that knowledge to benefit our clients, because, ultimately, that’s why we’re here. For our clients and because of our clients.” We guarantee that the coming year will bring many more improvements, growth, and event announcements, and we invite you to stay tuned by following us on Twitter and LinkedIn.
Bring it on, 2019
As for some exciting events that we’re looking forward to attending in 2019, you will definitely find us as the ones organized by INTA, IACC, and Europol. And if you’re eager for our first software roll-out of the year, it’s scheduled to happen during the first quarter of 2019, so you won’t have to wait too long for some more exciting Pointer news!
With all that said, everything we do boils down to helping our clients protect their brands. In order to do this, we must constantly be looking at the ways in which we can improve. No matter what the year has in store for us, we’re always focused on our ultimate goal: to take down as many counterfeiters, infringers, and online criminals as we can possibly tackle. Our aim is to be the best at what we do—to make clients rave and couterfeiters quake, and we’re pleased to say that we’re well on the way there.