Copyright piracy, trademark counterfeiting, and patent infringement are illegal practices that have become significant problems and are continuing to escalate. More than 70% of counterfeit items are bought online. While the internet has provided innumerable opportunities for legitimate businesses to grow and reach consumers on a global level, it has also allowed counterfeiters’ the ability to increase their operations worldwide.
Unassuming consumers searching for genuine products have fallen victim to counterfeit websites that use images and pricing strategies to fool customers they are purchasing the genuine product.
Your first step in protecting your invention from being exploited by others is to obtain a patent. This makes you the brand owner. Patents are granted for a period of 20 years from the filing date of an application and are the grant of a property right to the inventor. Although a patent from the U.S. Patent and Trade Office (PTO) affords your invention and business legal protection, the government is not responsible for policing your patent. That job is up to you.
Patent holders profit from their inventions by going into business for themselves or licensing the use of their invention to other companies. Counterfeiting directly impacts a brand owner’s revenue, with lower quality copies flooding the market, damaging the perceived value of the brand and reducing demand (and pricing) for legitimate brand products.
The following steps are an example of a strategy that can protect your brand against illicit trade. This is best achieved with the help of an experienced IP attorney.
- In addition to IP registration, register your names and logos as trademarks and consider protecting your products with design and utility patents. Seek protection in all countries where you intend to market your products and in some key areas that are known producers of counterfeits, such as China, Turkey, and Southeast Asia.
- Ensure your trademark is registered with Customs Offices in all countries so agents can seize infringing goods.
- Register for the Madrid Protocol: This allows a business that owns a trademark in their home country to request additional registrations in more than 60 member countries in Europe, Asia, and Africa.
- Ensure Non-disclosure Agreements (NDA) and manufacturing agreements are signed.
- Inform the public of any known infringement – how to distinguish the counterfeit from the original (even though the packaging may be legitimate, the product inside may be a fake).
- Monitor the market for any possible infringements. E-bay and Amazon, as well as social media sites such as Facebook, are becoming popular sites for counterfeit.
- Once infringement is identified, engage in pre-trial measures, such as cease and desist letters.