“We still have a long journey ahead when it comes to raising awareness on the importance of protecting intellectual property assets within the business, while data shows how the two, meaning IP and revenue, are closely linked.”
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- Do you think the potential recession is/will impact brand owners’ budgets for online brand protection?
This is actually already happening, we have been seeing more caution in the way brand owners are evaluating their involvement in OBP projects. Detection technologies and consultancy services represent quite a significant investment that not every company feels they are able to sustain – especially in such times where the bottom line has become to “tighten the belt” and shrink costs wherever possible.
Despite the increase of companies getting into OBP projects, Brand Protection is still perceived as an accessory activity and a mere cost in the budget, hence expendable in case of crisis if the business risks to be affected. We still have a long journey ahead when it comes to raising awareness on the importance of protecting intellectual property assets within the business, while data show how the two, meaning IP and revenue, are closely linked: according to the latest joint report by the EUIPO and the OECD, among SMEs, the ones affected by IP infringements are 34% less likely to survive after 5 years. On the other hand, a study published by EUIPO and EPO states that SMEs that own IPR have 68% higher revenue per employee than SMEs that do not.
- Is there any data to show that the number of counterfeits is growing (despite or due to recession)?
With regard to such a complex and cross-border phenomenon, that has steeply increased its size in – and thanks to – the online environment, the available figures we have lack to describe how really pervasive the market of fakes has become. The public perception is that counterfeiting is mainly related to expensive, luxury products the average consumer is otherwise unable to afford. The reality is actually much more complicated and worrying: counterfeits can be found in any market and without price to be a reliable red flag. From automotive to pharmaceuticals, from food and beverage to machinery, from toys to personal care, any industry should be wary of the risks they are exposed to, not only in terms of sales and reputation, but also – and often especially – of safety of their consumers. The numbers at our disposal are mainly based on seizures of physical goods, usually by customs, hence it is evident we are not seeing the whole picture. Latest data from EUIPO/EU Commission freeze a photograph of almost 80 thousand detentions of goods infringing IPRs only at the EU border, in one year.
The number of articles detained has got from 27 million items to 42 million in over a year, with a significant shift from expensive to cheaper products: this turn might also suggest the incredible capacity of infringers to adapt to the market demand and infiltrate the legal channel, therefore not only targeting aware consumers but more and more often also oblivious customers. If we look at the past recession phases the world and the EU especially have gone through, while they have entailed a drop in revenues for many legit companies, on the other hand they have paved the way to counterfeiters to address consumers’ demands for lower-priced products. Besides, times of crisis can also mean a shift of focus from the brand owners’ perspective: you have to prioritize in order to safeguard the business and stay afloat and when brand protection is not among these priorities, infringers take note and advantage.
- What do you see as the main trends for this year in terms of threats/counterfeits etc.?
Depending on the industrial sector, I believe we will keep seeing the good old infringing conducts we are used to see on e-commerce platforms and social media, with the latter becoming more and more the “new” channel of selling and purchasing, but also where to take inspiration and advice from friends, influencers and brands. We are witnessing to a rise of this “social commerce” and “live commerce” phenomenons, which is hugely appreciated by the younger generations and needs to be a main focus when it comes to monitoring for IP violations. Together with the emerging social media platforms, an attentive eye should be kept on the third generation of the Web, the so-called Web 3.0. There a variety of technologies is involved as a result of the alignment of blockchain, NFTs, AI, virtual and augmented reality and big data with the cloud computing resources with the goal to create a decentralized and open economy, user-oriented. We are also having the first cases of IP infringements in the metaverse and even if we still don’t know for sure whether this virtual space will be an additional means for bad actors to fraud consumers and undermine legitimate businesses, we need to take into account the opportunities it might entail not only for brand owners but also for the rogue traders.
Another menacing trend we have been starting to see is linked to blockchain domain names and cybersquatting: it’s still a pretty nebulous topic for most brand owners and this is the reason why in BRANDIT we have decided to be more involved and support companies in availability searches, domain registration, monitoring and takedown requests concerning infringing blockchain domains offered on sale on marketplaces.
- What do you see as the main issues brand owners will face when trying to manage the growing threats on a potentially reduced/limited budget, and if you were working with a small/reduced budget, what would you recommend brand owners to do?
Keeping up with the goals of the business on a tight budget can already represent a challenge that might lead companies to miss the focus on what is key to protect the business itself. You have to build a comprehensive strategy as well as setting priorities to be aligned with the projected costs. But while the economic resources often cannot be re-discussed, how to place and spend those can make the difference in terms of the effectiveness of the results. Think about your brand, your trademark registrations, your target markets and consumers, make an assessment of your online presence and of the objectives you have from an IP protection perspective. Is it a clean-up? Is it getting only the “big fish”? Is it “only” trademark misuse or counterfeiting? Is it also product diversion and monitoring ex business partners? Is it the Chinese market? The South-East Asian? The North American? Is it impersonation on social media? Misleading advertisement? With reduced budgets what really matters is finding a tailored solution that comprehends the main challenges and allows you to start even small but in an effective way in terms of concrete achievements.
In BRANDIT we have been thinking about the issues many companies, especially SMEs, might meet when it comes to juggling with cut budgets and/or downsized teams. Would this “small start” worth the hassle of committing to an OBP project? We think it is worth it, because circling back to what we said before, protecting the brand equals protecting the business. If you do not tackle your main online threats, the risk is to lose the trust of your clients, in some cases to even jeopardize their safety and health, and so your image and revenues. This is the reason we decided to launch OBP Light, a new service designed specifically for small and medium-sized companies that would like to approach online brand protection without having to worry about making a large economic investment.
5. How does OBP Light benefit brand owners?
OBP Light offers a streamlined package of online monitoring and enforcement focusing on a few platforms and it’s scalable, depending on the needs of the brand owner. We wanted to create a flexible and adaptable tool that could assist companies peeking over online brand protection and starting taking actions against infringers. The benefit is making use of a simple and cheap solution that can allow companies to assess what is really out there concerning their brand and to begin doing something about it, with the extra-hand of BRANDIT as consultant. As to now, the package includes up to three marketplaces, but the more brands are involved in this project, the more platforms will be included to address the specificity of each client. Besides, the monitoring tool has been designed to be user-friendly in case the brand owner would like to directly access it to review the results.
- Finally, what would your advice be for new brands just starting out and are thinking about brand protection?
I would say to first think about your goals, as a business, and, starting from there, to set your priorities in terms of issues to be addressed. OBP doesn’t always have to be a huge and economically draining investment: a lighter approach describes a different way of looking at it, that is taking a smaller step and focusing your efforts on the main challenges your brand is facing right now. It’s also a good way of appreciating the importance of online brand protection and to see real results in a relative short-term; and finally, may serve to think about what can come next, in the long-term, to assess the opportunity of building a more extended OBP strategy, while tweaking your objectives and moving your focus on a wider scope.
Mariachiara’s sense of adventure often finds her hiking up mountains and travelling off the beaten track to discover new places and people - always pushing the physical and her mental boundaries! When she takes off her hiking boots, Mariachiara loves to spend time with friends and family on her home shores of beautiful Lake Garda and also enjoys dabbling in a spot of photography.
Mariachiara has been working in the IP industry since graduating from her studies and as our Online Brand Protection Legal Counsel, she loves working closely with our clients on their online brand protection programmes as well as on their on- and offline investigations. Big on data analysis, she enjoys testing her investigative skills to get to the bottom of any potential infringers.
Mariachiara speaks: Italian and English
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