In the fight against counterfeiting and piracy on the Internet, brand owners must try to identify and eliminate counterfeit manufacturers in the real economy. Those who find illegal sales in Internet marketplaces and online shops with the help of crawling software and only have them deleted manually or automatically cure the symptom. The deleted offers will appear in other shops or social media shortly after removal – the brand owner chases the counterfeiter from one website to another.
Warning letters of are also a double-edged sword because they can be published by the infringer in a way that damages the brand owner’s reputation or can be used for a legal counter-attack. In addition, people often react aggressively and emotionally when their accounts are closed. The Internet marketplaces and social media have no room for legel action if no rights are violated on them. Ultimately, it is up to the trademark owner to combat the counterfeiting. He must strategically analyze online findings in order to be able to carry out lastingly effective offline measures against the manufacturer. In the event of major damage, he should involve not only the IP department but also the Cyber Security department.
The example of referring URLs shows how sophisticated and complex the methods of counterfeiters have become in the meantime. For example, an offer of fake jackets is published on Facebook or Instagram. However, the page contains only one link, and the identity of the provider is not recognizable on it. The link leads to a shop on a Chinese platform such as Alibaba, which displays power cables in various colors. The cables represent the jackets, with the colors of the cables corresponding to the colors of the jackets. The brand and product names are not displayed in the Alibaba shop. Customers who buy through such sites are informed – they want to purchase counterfeit products.
Fakes are often distributed on the Internet through drop shipping, where the retailer has no stock and only manages orders via shops and social media accounts. The goods go directly from the manufacturer or wholesaler to the buyer. In this model, not only the manufacturer but also the drop shipper violates the trademark owner’s intellectual property rights.
Today brand names are not only used in domains, but also in app names, social media posts or accounts, etc. Often an offer comes very close to a more or less generic brand name like “Next“. The look of the shop in social media such as Instagram is very similar to the appearance of the original, the counterfeiter always remains on the verge of an infringement with this strategy.
Also popular with counterfeiters are trading in less transparent channels such as the Chinese WeChat, the Russian Telegram or in closed user groups of WhatsApp or other messaging media. Another popular channel is Snapchat, where offers are only displayed for a limited period of time. A pure online fight becomes virtually impossible when counterfeiters operate in global networks and data, goods, and money flow across multiple countries.
To identify manufacturers and their networks, we use different strategies, methods and tools, which we combine according to the specific situation. The basic strategy is and remains undercover investigation by specially trained and experienced IP detectives who gather information in the real market and in digital forums. They are supported by informants who report on our comprehensive WeChat information system, and share clues and experiences about social media.
Picture: Unsplash/ Jakob Owens