IP Gadgets: Brand protection against Coronavirus counterfeits

August 6, 2020

2 min read

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What's going on here?

Criminals are cashing in on coronavirus paranoia, using the internet to sell thousands of counterfeit hygiene products worldwide, but this presents a lucrative opportunity for IP lawyers to provide a modern solution to a modern problem.

What does this mean?

Counterfeiting is nothing new. Fake bags and watches, we’ve seen it all before. But the coronavirus crisis has seen an unnerving spike in counterfeit hygiene and personal protection products. Criminals have quickly adapted to the heightened demand for health protection, marketing sub-standard and often dangerous surgical masks, “corona spray”, “coronavirus medicine” and even “self-test kits”. The European Anti-Fraud Office has identified 340 companies trading in counterfeit products linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.

European and International crime-fighting agencies Europol and Interpol are two organisations tackling these counterfeiters head on. Interpol’s Operation Pangea united authorities from 90 countries and led to the seizure of 37,000 counterfeit medical devices, 121 arrests, and the removal of 2,500 links on online marketplaces and social media.

Europol’s report on corona counterfeiting has blamed our increased reliance on technology due to home working as a cause of the spike, with criminals flooding the internet with links to their fake products.

What's the big picture effect?

This issue has highlighted that now, and as we emerge from the height of the virus, businesses worldwide need a robust brand protection strategy. Europol stressed in its report that even after the crisis, “criminals are likely to adapt fraud schemes in order to exploit the post-pandemic situation”.

Furthermore, many brands face an uphill battle in even asserting their trade-marks and registered designs. In 2011, the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) held that eBay was not liable to L’Oreal for counterfeit goods sold on its platform because eBay only facilitated the sale, it wasn’t the vendor. Just this year, the CJEU found that Amazon was similarly not liable to Davidoff’s parent company (Coty) for unauthorised sales of Davidoff perfume made on Amazon by a third party.

Clearly businesses need to stop playing catch up and get ahead of counterfeiters. 

That’s why the developed commercial law firms are integrating new technologies into their brand protection divisions. As clients demand more and more from their lawyers, the resourceful firms are pursuing practical, tech-driven solutions that can be incorporated into clients’ day-to-day operations. 

Last year, Baker McKenzie partnered with iTrace Technologies to reinforce its brand protection capabilities. iTrace’s 2DMI software marks products with irrefutable links that can be traced from manufacture to retail, so brands can be certain where their products are, and whether goods are legitimate. The combination of Baker Mckenzie’s IP lawyers with 2DMI was said to be “a perfect match to help brands fight counterfeiting”. Similarly, Pinsent Masons has developed Alteria, a new platform to help clients monitor brand imposters and enforce their IP rights. The online portal provides an overview of a businesses’ IP registrations and scans the internet for infringements and important occurrences in real time. Most impressively, the software allows clients to implement takedowns of counterfeit goods on social media, websites, and global marketplaces like Amazon and eBay. 

These new technologies do seem promising. Counterfeiters, however, are not known for giving up easily.

Report written by Rory Crawford

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