Amazon's anticounterfeiting ace | IPPro Magazine

Amazon’s anticounterfeiting ace | IPPro Magazine

Amazon’s new counterfeit takedown tool puts the power in the hands of the brands, but could cause issues for others.

Amazon recently launched Project Zero, a counterfeit removal tool allowing brands to remove counterfeit listings on the ecommerce site. The tool is aimed at removing the need for brands to report counterfeit goods directly to Amazon.

It uses automated protections and serialisation alongside the self-removal tool so that brands can have total control over removing counterfeits on the platform. Brands can also upload logos, trademarks and other key brand data, which is then scanned against the entire product listing looking for suspected counterfeits.

Amazon said that tests of Project Zero’s automation aspect have “proactively stop[ped] 100 times more suspected counterfeit products”, compared to what it reactively removed based on reports from brands.

Allowing brands to remove the counterfeits themselves does negate the need to contact Amazon and, at the time of writing, only a few brands have been given access to the tool. In order to gain access to Project Zero, a brand must hold a registered trademark and have enrolled their brands in Amazon’s Brand Registry.

Mark Del, chief legal and administrative officer of Vera Bradley, which has already used the service, called it “a significant development that will help ensure our customers receive authentic Vera Bradley products from Amazon”.

While Amazon has sought to get rid of the ‘reactive’ element of takedowns, the best active way to remove counterfeits is hitting them at their source. This could mean working out supply chains, monitoring products being posted online, which smaller companies may not have the time nor resources to do.

Smaller companies around notable shopping seasons such as Black Friday or Christmas may struggle to take down the influx of infringing goods during such a busy time of the year.

Kevin Williams, CEO of RGK Innovations says his firm was by targeted by bad actors last Thanksgiving. “Six listing hijackers sprang up while I was with my family at dinner. We lost the Amazon Standard Identification Number all weekend.”

Products are usually infringed when a brand is popular, especially when its popularity grows quickly. To try and quell such brand infringement in the past, Amazon used two versions of Brand Registry, its transparency tool, and now, Project Zero. Previous tools focused on battling what Williams called “low hanging fruit offenders”.

Well-known brands will likely have large legal options, with devoted in-house counsels focusing solely on combating counterfeiters, with Project Zero becoming a welcomed addition to what tends to be an already sizeable arsenal. But for smaller brands, Project Zero may be the only tool at their disposal.

Tools similar to Project Zero have “work[ed] well for well known, established brands that have teams in place and have trademark registrations in place”, according to Tim Santoni, president and CEO of Santoni Investigations.

One issue that Project Zero doesn’t help with is actually naming the infringers, as Amazon won’t tell brands who is infringing their products. This could be vital for brands of any size in taking down habitual infringers.

Counterfeits make up three percent of worldwide trade according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), so the problem is a massive one for brand owners and one that isn’t going away.

Over half a billion in counterfeit goods were seized by Alibaba Anti-Counterfeiting Alliance members on the Alibaba platform in 2018, but could Amazon be doing more on its own platform Currently, Project Zero is a very simple, reactive tool that halts the most straightforward example of brand infringement.

It does make reactive enforcement faster, but something focused on all aspects of brand misuse, not limited to fake versions of another product, is clearly needed. Incopro CEO and co-founder Simon Baggs explains that its “a one takedown to one problem solution at speed”.

Brands in the ecommerce world likely don’t stick to one platform to sell on. For those using multiple platforms, Project Zero is a welcome addition to a fairly sizeable arsenal of enforcement tools. eBay’s Verified Rights Owner (VeRO) programme allows rights owners to report listing that they think could be infringing. According to eBay, VeRO has 50,000 member companies and individuals covering various industries including major software companies and luxury goods manufacturers.

It is still early days for Project Zero, with a long way to go before it can be declared a total success, but it seems to be a step in the right direction.

The real problem, according to Baggs, is the networks of bad actors that are engaging in infringement across multiple platforms.

He said that there is “a lot of money to be made in it” and that, to some extent, “it feels like not looking at the ultimate problem”.

Amazon’s compliance is only 12 percent compared to eBay and Alibaba’s efforts when it comes to IP claims, according to Williams. Of RGK Innovations’ IP claims, 90 percent come are on eBay. He suggests that Amazon is late in setting up robust controls and is too focused on having a stronger bias towards leaving listings up vs removal.

In order to improve not just Project Zero, but ecommerce platforms as a whole, brand misuse needs to be tackled in an effective and wholesale manner. Given it is so early in Project Zero’s lifecycle, brand owners and professionals are essentially working with what Amazon has said it will do, rather than seeing for themselves.

In terms of how ecommerce platforms should alter brand misuse policies going forward, Baggs said he wasn’t going to hold his breath for any platforms to get on the front foot with this problem.

In terms of altering Project Zero though, Baggs says that going forward it is going to be about making around the edge changes rather than altering it in any major way. If Amazon opted to resist making sensible changes, Baggs said this would surprise him. The biggest change he suggests is a reactive process focused on single issues, but adds that he didn’t think Amazon would “change much in that respect”.

The ultimate takeaway is that brand infringement is not solely about tackling and removing fakes of a certain product. Increasingly other types of brand infringement are in play, with endless examples of brand misuse being seen on Amazon.

Baggs recommends adding the tool to any brand enforcement’s arsenal, but adds that he doesn’t think it is going to deal with all of the problems, warning that the issue of brand infringement was “quite involved and quite broad in scope”.

Moving forward, Amazon appears to have pulled a fairly useful card out from its sleeve, but it may need to shuffle the deck a bit more to better equip itself and users against brand infringement.


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