Authored by: Ivan Nachev, Brand Protection Analyst | Incopro

Football has often been a sport divided, there are those who want it to join the modern world and embrace modern technology, then there are those who want it to stay more traditional and keep to its roots.

With the addition of goal-line technology and VAR it seems that modern technology is winning, though if you’re brave enough to venture onto twitter for a debate you’ll see it’s still a hotly contested argument.

Off the field, technology has been welcomed more warmly, and with the amount of money involved in commercial activities it is hardly surprising. For legal activities this is great, as companies seek to bring fans ever closer to the action and their heroes, however, counterfeiters are showing just as much ingenuity in lining their own pockets.

What is 3D printing?

The latest innovation from counterfeiters is 3D printing, this allows them to create three dimensional solid objects from a digital file. Incopro has been following this trend for years and has observed that this World Cup is the first sporting tournament counterfeiters have the capabilities of creating high quality replica shirts for any team, or for that matter any other merchandise connected to the tournament.

When used legally, there are platforms across the internet where designers upload their creations, known as Computer Aided Designs (CAD’s) and the file can be purchased and printed at home, this allows anyone to print almost anything for a fraction of the usual cost.

How are criminals using it?

Unfortunately, whilst this technology has great potential for society, it can cause serious trouble for rights owners, this is not a teenager printing an action figure at home for personal use, but the criminal counterfeiter who uses the technology to make money by committing trademark, design, or patent infringements along the way. Indeed, the wider fashion industry is already starting to recognise the challenge posed by this technology that can produce counterfeits almost indistinguishable in both look and feel to the genuine original.

Whilst this technology is not yet widespread, it is growing and is most noticeable in global events like the World Cup. The potential that it has for the counterfeiting world means that it needs to be addressed and kit making companies like Adidas or Nike (or any clothes making companies) should treat it as a huge threat to their profits. With the constant improvement of 3D printing technology the problem is only becoming more serious.

Whilst most of the fraudulent 3D printing we have discovered so far has been replica kits, it is not limited to fabric. We have also seen illegal versions of the world cup match ball, mascots, trophy replicas and figurines of players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Harry Kane. This issue has been far more prevalent in the movie industry in the past decade but is now slowly yet surely creeping into the sporting arena.

The Implications

Buying counterfeit or unlicensed goods is never a good idea and there is no better way to show support of your favourite team than buying an original shirt. Educating the consumer is important, but not sufficient to protect your brand, companies need to consider specialised services. At Incopro we are already dealing with the 3D printing threat by combining analysis, intelligence, enforcement, and most importantly by monitoring market trends and identifying new threats before they expand and cause harm to brand owners.

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To find out more about how Incopro can help your brand protect itself in the ever challenging online environment, please contact us.