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:
- Rogue websites
- Copyright piracy
- Trademark squatting
- Patent theft
- Social media impersonation
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.
What 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:
- Cybersquatters; sites that claim domain names in order to take advantage of other brands’ trademarks.
- Typosquatters; these rely on internet users making mistakes while typing in the address of other websites.
- Imitation sites; websites that attempt to completely pass themselves off as the website of an existing authentic brand.
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.
Social media impersonation
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.
What do brand protection services do?
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.
Brand protection software
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:
- Keyword monitoring
- Image recognition
- Machine learning
- Smart user experience
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.
Smart user experience
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.
Consequences of counterfeiting for brands
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:
- Falling sales - If counterfeiters are able to produce IP-protected products, and can offer them at a considerably lower price than the authentic brand, then that brand will undoubtedly suffer a considerable hit to their sales.
- Reputation - Brands work hard to establish a reputation for themselves in the public eye. When targeted by counterfeiters, that reputation can be put in jeopardy, leading potential customers to avoid your brand in favor of brands seen as more reliable, trustworthy and high-quality.
- Attending to deceived customers - Many consumers of counterfeit products are unaware they are buying fake products when they make the purchase. When counterfeits prove themselves to be low-quality goods, the consumers take them to the authentic brand for replacements and are frustrated to learn they had been duped.
- Losing trust with your partners - The actions of counterfeiters can massively undermine the trust between businesses that can take years to develop. Distributors will see counterfeiters offering products for far cheaper than the minimum price agreed upon with the authentic brand, or think their exclusive rights are being betrayed and will blame the brand they’d been working with for years.
- The resources it costs to fight counterfeits - Even the act of fighting back against counterfeiters can be a slow and expensive process that draws resources from other departments of a business. Huge sums of money can be invested in paying lawyers in an attempt to keep the counterfeiting troubles at a minimum, usually to little avail.
How to protect your brand
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.
- Register your IP - Without formally registering intellectual property, there is very little real legal recourse for brands who suffer from brand abusers. In fact, without trademarks formally registered, counterfeiters would be free to rip off logos and brand names. Getting intellectual property registered needs to be the first step for creating a brand protection solution.
- NDAs with partners - This is especially important for brands with patent-protected designs and processes. Agreeing to work with other companies without protections for confidential information can put a brand at a huge risk.
- Fight rogue websites - Rogue websites are sites set up for malicious or criminal purposes. They come in a number of variations, all of which are potentially damaging to brands. You can fight this by registering relevant domain names to your brand, and removing harmful sites.
- Have a strong social media presence - As social media grows as an important platform for counterfeiters, brands need to maintain a strong presence to establish themselves as authentic. Using on-site reporting tools and using undercover accounts are vital to removing bad actors on social media.
- Educate your customers - Customer education can be used to great effect in brand education in two ways. Helping customers to recognize the differences between legitimate products and fakes will better equip them to avoid getting tricked. Educating people on the overall harms of counterfeiting will also make them less likely to seek out knockoff products.
Do I need brand protection?
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.