The Definitive Guide to Online Brand Protection
What is it and how can you benefit?
Brand protection is the act of seeking to prevent counterfeiters, copycats and other bad actors from infringing your brand illegally by using your intellectual property (IP), your brand name, brand identity and/or violate your trademarks, copyrights, patents, designs and other types of IP.
In this guide, whether you’re a business owner or work for a large company, we explain exactly how you can start the fightback through the practice of Brand Protection.
Imagine your customer for a moment. Searching online. Honing in on the product they want. Cruising through the perfect, frictionless buying experience you always wanted them to have.
And then it happens. They come across that fake site or seller and they’re presented with a temptingly cheap knock off. Or even more disconcertingly – a highly convincing fake.
Whatever their reaction is, it’s one you’re not going to want. Brand infringement is a trigger for a variety of undesirable consumer emotions that are going to impact your profits, your reputation – or both.
And it doesn’t matter who you are.
Whether you’re selling luxury goods, electronics, food or any other industry, you don’t want your brand to be anywhere near this tawdry, reputation-damaging fakery that’s diluting the strength of your brand.
If you’re selling goods at a low price point, it’s still going to hit your sales.
And it’s not just fakes you have to worry about. There’s a whole world of other issues to consider; from regulatory breaches to social media impersonators, to phishing scams that could create headlines for all the wrong reasons.
What is Brand Protection?
In the simplest possible terms Brand Protection is the act of prevention against brand infringement.
So by engaging in Brand Protection, you are seeking to prevent someone from infringing your brand illegally by using your intellectual property and/or brand name.
But what is the ‘intellectual property’ we talk of – and is it really all that intellectual? Well no, not necessarily.
Intellectual property is simply the legal framework that covers anything you produce that is a ‘creation of the mind’ – which could be an invention, artistic work, or product.
Your intellectual property could be a thousand-page novel or a new type of plug for a sink. Or it could simply be the logos you use to represent your brands.
The intellectual property ‘rights’ that guard your assets are the same as the rights you have over any other kind of property. They allow you to benefit from your own work.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it?
Unfortunately, no it isn’t. Brand Protection isn’t as easy as simply knowing your rights, because there are just so many ways that your brand can come under attack.
So before we move on to the various ways you can protect your brand and intellectual property, it will pay to take a few moments to consider some of the many ways that infringements can happen.
Types of Brand Infringement
Counterfeiting should need little introduction. It is the manufacturing or distribution of goods under your brand name or IP rights, without your permission.
Yet there are subtle differences within the counterfeit trade that are important to define. Many counterfeiters produce knock-offs (non-identical imitation goods that do not feature branding or trademarks), for example, which are often very low quality and do not meet the criteria of what you might consider being a ‘true’ counterfeit.
True counterfeits, on the other hand, tend to be made at scale by criminal organizations. These criminal organizations often have access to materials that make their imitations very hard to differentiate from the genuine thing. They also tend to have wide distribution networks.
True counterfeiting is a much more problematic area because it makes it much more difficult for you and your consumers to see what is real and what is fake. It can also pose serious health and safety risks. Counterfeit bike helmets, for example, have been known to shatter at the slightest impact when made from inferior materials and without adherence to required industry standards.
There are many other types of infringement you need to consider.
Copyright infringement refers to the unauthorized copying, distribution, display or performance of any of your works protected by copyright. Copyright is a core type of intellectual property covering original works such as literary, video, photographic, audio or other art forms.
Trademark infringement, on the other hand, is the unauthorized use of your trademark on goods and services. Trademarks are a badge of origin and anything that can be used to differentiate your products or services from others often falls within this. Trademarks usually take the form of words, logos, patterns, and shapes associated with your brand.
Patent theft or patent infringement
Then there is patent theft or patent infringement – the act of making or selling your patented product without your permission. A patent is an exclusive right that can be granted to you by government authorities for a new invention – i.e. a product or process that is original or provides a new solution to a problem.
Design infringement is similar to patent infringement and usually involves the manufacture of goods using patented design features to create a similar unauthorized version of your product. According to a report by the UK government Intellectual Property Office, a staggering 98.3% of design rights owners say they have experience of design infringement. It is a particular problem in the fashion industry, where so-called fast fashion outlets often produce lookalikes of new range launches.
When you enter the world of Brand Protection, you’re also likely to hear the term intellectual property infringement. This is the umbrella term that covers all types of IP infringement, including copyright and trademark infringement. Intellectual property infringement also covers infringement of your design patents or theft of your trade secrets.
We also need to mention the various tactics and mechanisms by which the act of brand infringement is carried out.
Rogue or copycat websites
Rogue or copycat websites, for example, are set up to imitate the official site of your brand, often with a subtly subverted version of your official URL. Other types of rogue websites do not necessarily attempt to replicate the look and feel of the official site. They look and feel like fakes. But the purpose is the same – to sell counterfeit products.
A related practice, phishing, is the act of impersonating your brand in order to gather personal details. These details are often gathered via order and contact forms on rogue websites. Once gathered, the details can be used to carry out theft, identity theft, and online fraud.
Social media impersonation
Social media impersonation, meanwhile, is an increasingly common practice that involves creating fake social media accounts under the guise of your official brand – often with the intention of redirecting consumers to rogue websites or listings on e-commerce platforms that sell counterfeit or infringing goods.
A word also about fraud and the terminology that surrounds it. In Brand Protection terms, fraud usually refers to the sale of goods by sellers misrepresenting their authorized status or the products and offers they provide.
Fraud is often carried out via false association, which is the creation of the appearance of a relationship that may be illegitimate or fraudulent, but where there may be a relationship of some kind in existence. More serious cases of fraud by false association fall under the category of unauthorized use, which is the creation of a relationship where none previously existed.
Finally, we also need to mention that Brand Protection also extends to the issue of compliance. This is used by brands to ensure that official resellers comply with industry standards. Compliance is particularly important if you operate in a highly regulated industry such as pharmaceuticals, where the sale goods are strictly controlled by the government and independent regulators.
Why do I need Brand Protection?
We don’t really need to tell you. Ignoring these threats is not going to be a good idea – online platforms are unlikely to fight in your corner without your support and, left to their own devices, will exacerbate the problem.
You’re going to lose money. Your reputation is going to suffer. People are going to outright steal your ideas and come back and do it again.
But how do you even begin to quantify what that really means for your business – in real terms?
There’s plenty of research out there that will help you build your business case.
According to a recent study by Sapio Research, for example, 52% of US consumers say they have lost trust in a brand after unintentionally purchasing counterfeit products online.
That’s a huge potential hit to your brand.
Further Sapio research says that this lack of trust has a direct effect on buying behavior. A separate survey found that as many as 76% of consumers are less likely to buy products from a brand that is regularly associated with counterfeit goods.
The European Economic and Social Committee says that the probable overall value of trade in counterfeit products worldwide is likely to be between EUR 600 billion (UN) and close to EUR 1 trillion. A recent report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), meanwhile, says that the value of imported fake goods worldwide currently stands at over $500 billion annually.
Clearly, the impact of counterfeit goods on brand value, buying habits and even wider societies and national economies is huge.
If you want to know more about the wider economic impact of counterfeiting, you can find out more in the full Sapio report.
Brand Protection Strategy
So enough about the challenges. What about solutions? Before you even think about the technology you are going to need, your response needs to start with a well-thought-out strategy. But what exactly should that strategy include?
Firstly, if you don’t already have the expertise in-house, you need to get some good IP portfolio advice that will help you to manage and protect your IP portfolio effectively. This might include performing clearance searches to screen new brands or dealing with trademark and design registration to secure your brand in all key markets. Bottom line: you will need to manage your intellectual property by ensuring it’s fully protected against any possible local objections to maximize its potential monetary value.
Secondly, you will need to set up a mechanism for data collection and gathering business intelligence. This will also need to work across many e-commerce platforms and geographies. How much do you know about where your brand is being infringed online? Which products are most affected? In which regions? And where is the most traffic going? Gathering this kind of intelligence should be the cornerstone of your Brand Protection strategy and will help you to prioritize effectively.
Prioritization and threat analysis
With this kind of information and intelligence at your disposal, it’s possible that you’re also going to feel a little overwhelmed. This means your strategy is also going to need a level of prioritization and threat analysis that will help you manage and target your IP protection and anti-piracy/anti-counterfeiting efforts effectively.
In addition, you will need to think about IP enforcement. On the simplest level, this will mean putting a mechanism in place to notify online marketplaces when you have identified an infringement by someone selling on their platform.
Typically, you will also need to have a tried and tested means of contacting infringing parties directly. Not all infringers are necessarily criminals, some may even be ardent fans of your brand. They may just be failing to comply with your brand guidelines when reselling products. So it also pays to have a ‘friendly’ way to contact these sellers and keep them in line.
Online advertising monitoring
As part of this strategy, it may be relevant for your brand to carry out extensive online advertising monitoring. This will help you identify where your ads are shown in undesirable locations and deliver the intelligence you need to rectify it.
Social media monitoring
Social media monitoring is equally important. This is because it often reveals networks of bad sellers that spread their influence through popular social media channels. Recently, a case was recorded where the discovery of a single Instagram account promoting counterfeit goods led to the exposure of a network of 531 social media accounts. This network had a combined total of 716,645 followers, 14,143 infringing URLs and 7,138 infringing listings on online marketplaces.
Network of partners
If you want to pursue your anti-counterfeiting strategy to the fullest possible extent, you will also need to put in place a network of ‘offline’ partners (such as law enforcement or government customs agencies) that you work with to chase down the most persistent offenders.
For some brands, though not all, this course of action is likely to lead you towards IP enforcement and Brand Protection litigation. This will often be the final piece in the Brand Protection strategy for those brands who pursue it.
Brand Protection Solutions
You’re building an understanding of what Brand Protection is going to do for your business. You know the threats you are protecting yourself against. And you understand the various components you’re going to need to put together a coherent Brand Protection strategy.
Now, what do you actually need to start getting your Brand Protection program up and running?
It’s likely at this point that some technology vendors are going to try and blind you with science. But there is really only one comprehensive approach you need to take.
Brand Protection Technology
The fact is, gaining visibility over your operations is too complex to accomplish effectively without this kind of technology. Fortunately, there are advanced software products you can buy that will help you to achieve your goals.
A note about how these are products are presented. If you are a large brand and already have teams combating brand infringement, you may just need self-serve products that you can use and implement yourself.
If you don’t have a department looking after Brand Protection, you might want to consider getting a fully managed service run by an outsourced team that will help you define your strategy and get the best out of the technology.
Depending on your needs and resources, you may prefer a combination of these two approaches.
Whatever your situation, as a baseline you should be looking to include Online Brand Protection and monitoring tools that identify online brand abuse and IP infringement.
Typically these tools work by scouring or ‘scraping’ the Internet. This process will help you uncover damaging threats to your brand on e-commerce marketplaces, social media, websites, 3D printing sites, app stores, mobile apps, and paid search.
Online Brand Protection monitoring tools should also be able to help you identify the most prolific or financially damaging infringers and prioritize them for enforcement.
To achieve this level of Brand Protection, the tool you choose should include 6 key elements:
Enabling you to track the most important keywords that are directly or indirectly related to your products or brand and appear in product listings.
Optical Character Recognition (OCR)
Giving you the ability to extract text that has been embedded into images to avoid keyword detection.
So you can also detect counterfeit products that look the same as the original but do not use the official brand name.
Allowing you to discover infringements where logos have been obscured or distorted to avoid enforcement.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning
So your system can learn the ways counterfeiters and other actors are changing the way they describe products with keywords and continually change search parameters to adapt.
Enabling you to automatically connect infringements across channels such as social media, marketplaces, and websites and uncover coordinated networks of infringing activity (in one real example from 2019, a global brand used Network Analysis technology to identify a network of over 500 social media accounts promoting over 14,000 infringing URLs on 42 unique websites).
Benefits of Brand Protection
So you have all the elements of your armory in place. You’re now ready to get started with modern advanced online Brand Protection. The million-dollar question is, how much is your business going to benefit?
Leading technology consultancy Forrester has constructed a Total Economic Impact™ (TEI) framework that helps to provide the answers.
According to the methodology, the gains a large company can expect include:
A dramatic increase in revenue
First and foremost sales can benefit directly from Brand Protection solutions that reduce counterfeit listings on online marketplaces – mainly because you’re increasing the visibility of your genuine products online.
Expected revenue increase over 3 years:
Increased legal team efficiency
If companies are spending money on expensive legal salaries they can also get a big financial uplift. This is because the legal team no longer need to spend time on tasks like gathering data across different marketplaces and social media platforms.
Expected financial saving over 3 years:
Incremental legal compensation
Litigation efforts are also bound to be more effective and more successful – significantly increasing the compensation you can recover from persistent counterfeiters and infringers.
Expected increase in legal compensation over 3 years:
The total cost-benefit over 3 years?
More than $1.5 million
The caveat to the Forrester model is that these figures are based on a composite organization based upon four Incopro clients, this composite organization has annual sales of $2billion.
Even if you’re not quite there yet with the $2billion sales – there is also plenty of case study evidence out there that will show you how businesses of all different sizes and types benefit from Brand Protection technology and services, helping them to:
- Increase their revenue
- Protect their reputation
- Boost legal efficiency
- Keep customers safe from physical harm
- Stay compliant
- Protect customers from fraud
- And use increased business intelligence to target infringing activity proactively
If you want to find out more, you can find some great examples of case studies here.
The only question now is – what could your business achieve?
Armed with the latest insights around modern Brand Protection, you can take on the copycats, bad actors, and criminals that are exploiting your consumers, eroding your revenues, and destroying trust in your brand online.
Download the full Definitive Guide to Brand Protection to access additional insights:
- The rise of global organized crime and its links to counterfeiting
- The value of internal and external collaboration
- Key quotes from Brand Protection professionals and brand owners
Download the ebook
Incopro Brand Protection solutions
At Incopro we provide Brand Protection solutions that save time and resources by effectively enforcing Intellectual Property online. Available for easy self-service or as a managed service, our solutions help you prioritize the most critical issues, strategically eliminate them and rapidly deliver the lasting reductions necessary to drive tangible business outcomes.
For more information on our Brand Protection solutions click the button below or talk to one of our experts to see how we can help protect your business.
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