Tim Lince

An investigation by World Trademark Review has uncovered new tactics being implemented by counterfeit sellers in response to more stringent anti-counterfeiting policies on online marketplaces. It is another reminder of the daunting task faced by both brand owners and online marketplaces in the battle to stop fakes – and the ever-evolving methods being used by those who sell counterfeit goods.

Yupoo is a Chinese image-based social network, allowing users to upload and arrange digital photos in galleries and collections. A Google search for “Yupoo” demonstrates that a frequent use of the site for Western audiences is sourcing fake goods – with profiles selling counterfeits appearing on the first page of results. It appears that some users, mostly located in China, are using the website to upload catalogues of their fake goods, for which potential buyers can either contact them directly or be linked to legitimate-looking listings on popular online marketplaces.

One example is the user ‘Jessie Yeezy’. Their Yupoo page reveals an image catalogue of Adidas-branded products, including the Yeezy, NMD and Ultra Boost lines of footwear. When a potential customer clicks into any of the product photos – such as these Yeezy trainers, identified as replicas by a third party – there are links to listings on the popular marketplaces DHGate and AliExpress, with a note telling users to “ignore the shoe picture in the link(s), we will send you Yeezy shoes”. When the user clicks into either of the marketplace listings, the images and descriptions are of generic-branded items of footwear. The catalogue on Yupoo also advises customers not to mention Yeezy products when giving feedback on DHGate or AliExpress, in case the sites block the account (curiously, the Yupoo account also contains a fake invoice given to German customs).

World Trademark Review has discovered dozens of Yupoo users using similar tactics – examples include the catalogues of Eva Yeezy, Jeff Yeezy, Linda Wang and Lucas Trade. The most common tactic of apparent counterfeit sellers on Yupoo appears to be simply adding their contact information on the profile page – most often email, WeChat or WhatsApp – and asking potential customers to place orders that way. Examples we found cover a wide variety of product categories – including luxury clothing, football kits, handbags, shoes, sunglasses, watches, technology and cosmetics – with counterfeits of most popular brands found easily using the Yupoo search page.

The use of Yupoo by counterfeiters appears to be a recent reaction to more effective anti-counterfeiting measures on online marketplaces; with data on Google Trends confirming that searches for ‘Yupoo’ have risen sharply in the past nine months (with ‘related searches’ including ‘Alibaba’, ‘brand’ and ‘replica’). As one commentator explained on an internet forum: “AliExpress is taking replicas more seriously and removing stores as soon as they find them, [so] sellers are beginning to go towards Yupoo. Basically you get the seller's Yupoo link, find what you want and pay on AliExpress – but get sent what you want. Most of the stuff on Yupoo you won't find on AliExpress because of its strict rules regarding fake brands.” Another added: “If you talk to a [counterfeit] seller and they direct you to their Yupoo, you can tell them what you want and they'll put up a link on AliExpress really quickly for you to pay for it.”

What can brands do?

One obvious concern for brand owners is that Yupoo does not appear to have an effective online takedown mechanism (the ‘report abuse’ link redirects to the default login page). We contacted Yupoo for information on what measures they have in place in regards to the sale or promotion of counterfeit goods on the Yupoo platform. A spokesperson responded that it is purely “a photo sharing and storage website, we don't sell any goods”, and added: “Maybe some guys or companies have uploaded [product] photos to our site, but we don't sell them.”

When pressed further, the spokesperson sent a takedown form (in Word document format, click to view) that can be printed out and filled in by a brand owner, and sent back with proof of both trademark ownership and power of attorney. The response should also include a Chinese translation, the spokesperson added, and be sent by postal mail or digitally scanned in colour. “Our company conducts business only as customer image storage service, we are not a sales site,” they reiterated. “We do not have the ability to determine whether an image qualifies as infringement, but we do respect protection of legitimate intellectual property rights.”

One expert in this field, Daniel Bennett of Yellow Brand Protection, told World Trademark Review that “this appears to be an evolution of an existing problem” – specifically of counterfeiters using legitimate-looking ads and a combination of platforms. His company has become “increasingly aware” of Yupoo in recent months, and Bennett warns that, due to the lax takedown measures on that platform (compared to the major online marketplaces and social networks), brand owners may need to use workarounds for effective enforcement. He expanded: “It is not surprising that Yupoo is deflecting any suggestion of blame, as the transaction is not happening on their site. This said, it is encouraging that they have an IP takedown process in place, and only time will tell if this is an effective means of brand protection. In the meantime, we recommend search engine delisting as a short-term solution. We have also been able to follow the trail and close down some WeChat accounts to stop transactions taking place there. Finally, we will be raising the issue with key marketplaces, along with evidence, and lobbying them to update their policies in this regard.”

It would be a positive move for others in the trademark community to add their voice in any lobbying effort in this regard. Furthermore, it is important to make sure that Yupoo is now on your enforcement radar. As counterfeiters evolve their methods, IP owners and brand protection specialists must adapt and evolve their strategies too. Ensuring that there is a multi-platform approach, using technology to track sellers across different websites and aliases, should be the new standard for any modern anti-counterfeiting effort.  

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RE: Evolution of the fakers: how counterfeiters are fighting back against marketplace takedowns

While Yuppo is one pointed example, it is by no means the only example of the use of multiple platforms especially social sites to sell fakes. Taobao is often something of a showroom, with pricing approaching real items yet when you inquire you are directed to Weibo, Yuppo or even instagram. Searching on these sites is often far more difficult as the fakes are detected only in a contextual analysis. It is big and we expect it to grow. Harley Lewin, McCarter & English, Fashion, Law and Design Group

Harley I Lewin, McCarter & English LLP on 10 Oct 2016 @ 17:11

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