14 May 2021

Brand owners must be smarter and more sophisticated in global fight against counterfeiters

Fake drugs, pharmaceutical fake package. Symbol for harmful counterfeit vaccine, risk and danger of illegal produced and sold pharmaceuticals. 3d render

Covid-19 has created huge opportunities for scammers, fraudsters and counterfeiters, warns James Nurton

The COVID-19 pandemic is having a big impact on anticounterfeiting, as on almost every other aspect of our lives.

Brand owners face the challenge of becoming smarter and more sophisticated in tackling counterfeits, even as their resources are stretched. With vaccines now being distributed in many countries, an end to the worst of the pandemic is in sight. But the rollout also provides a potential market for counterfeiters: Europol recently stated that it has found offers of fake vaccines on the dark web.

This follows similar warnings about fake personal protection equipment (such as surgical masks) and medical products being detected over the past year. Unfortunately, counterfeiters see the global health emergency as an opportunity to peddle items that are not approved or compliant, and potentially dangerous to those who use them. And of course they are targeting the most vulnerable.

Yet it is not just in healthcare where the impact of the pandemic has been felt. Enforced lockdowns, working from home and the closure of shops have led to huge increases in online shopping for everything from food to fashion. Companies such as Amazon have seen their sales soar over the past year, and new retail initiatives such as Facebook Shops have been launched.

The rise in e-commerce offers huge opportunities to scammers, fraudsters and counterfeiters. When consumers cannot see and touch the goods they’re buying, it’s easy for them to be conned. And those unfamiliar with the internet, such as the elderly, are among the most vulnerable. It’s hard to monitor online marketplaces, and equally hard to check every small package that is sent by post. 

The problem has been compounded by disruptions to supply chains resulting from the pandemic, providing windows of opportunity for counterfeiters, as well as the growth of technology such as deep fakes to mislead consumers online. Governments across the world have responded to the counterfeit threat with warnings and crackdowns, and some legislative proposals to regulate online commerce, such as the Digital Services Act in Europe and the SHOP SAFE Act in the United States.

Leading e-commerce companies have also taken some positive steps: last year, for example, Amazon launched a Counterfeit Crimes Unit and Google updated its complaint form for organic search results to include trademark infringement. 

Though such initiatives are welcome, they do not go far enough. Brand owners have to develop their own tools and strategies to tackle counterfeits – but at a time when revenues are squeezed, budgets are under pressure and cost savings are prioritised.

Creative solutions are therefore essential. Greater use of technology, including tools using machine learning and blockchain; better targeting of resources; effective awareness and deterrence campaigns; international cooperation; and strategically working with other brand owners all have a part to play.

In today’s globalised and connected world, reputations are made and broken rapidly. Damage to your brand from counterfeit or pirated goods can be felt in days and take years to remedy. And it’s not just about lost sales: fake products can undermine your reputation for quality and reliability – particularly if (as is likely) the fakes are dangerous, unethically manufactured and distributed and not environmentally friendly. 

The Anti-Counterfeiting World Law Summit will address these issues and provide practical insights into the current challenges in fighting fakes, and how brand owners can effectively address them. I hope you can join the discussion!

James Nurton, an editor and writer, specialising in IP, is moderating the Anti-Counterfeiting World Law Summit, which takes place on 22 June. Click here to read the programme for this virtual event. For sponsorship enquiries email mariasunderland@globallegalpost.com and to enquire about delegate passes contact jasmindersoor@globallegalpost.com

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