Tim Lince

An exclusive survey, conducted in the past fortnight by World Trademark Review, has revealed that members of the International Anticounterfeiting Coalition (IACC) have a mostly positive opinion about the organisation and its trajectory. This comes nearly a year after a membership revolt that sparked resignations and the launch of an independent review into the coalition’s inner workings. But while its programmes were rated highly by survey respondents – especially in regards to training and lobbying efforts – concern was expressed around the organisation’s leadership and a perceived lack of transparency.

World Trademark Review’s survey invited members of the IACC to answer questions on various aspects of the coalition’s work and operation. Taken as a whole, the results will be seen as positive for the organisation. A majority of respondents agree that its activities are “effective” and that it takes an “innovative” approach to anti-counterfeiting programmes. Nearly all confirmed they will be renewing their memberships.

But the results also reveal some significant divisions. One subsection of members is convinced that there are fundamental issues at the organisation that need to be urgently addressed. “I am disappointed and unsatisfied with the current leadership of the IACC,” said one respondent, with another stating: “The lack of transparency is unsettling, particularly after what occurred before and during the Spring meeting in 2016, and it is also clear that most members are disillusioned with the current leadership.”

On the other side, though, there is a group of members who believe the organisation is running at peak proficiency. “I couldn't be happier with [IACC president] Bob Barchiesi's leadership,” declared one respondent. “The IACC has never been stronger or more effective.” Beyond simply speaking highly about the coalition, some of these respondents hit out at those who they feel wish the coalition ill. The anonymous group that made accusations against the IACC last year, for example, were described as “vindictive , “cowards” and “pathetic losers”, and urged to “find a home at INTA instead”.

Unprecedented turmoil at the IACC

The survey is the first time that World Trademark Review has undertaken research focused on a single association. We did this after recently learning that an independent evaluation of the organisation had been completed. That review was announced following last May’s resignation of a number of IACC members, reportedly due to the creation of a membership category for intermediaries and, in turn, the introduction of Alibaba as an IACC member. The fallout sparked mainstream media coverage after an anonymous letter was sent to the coalition’s board of directors (with a copy also sent to the entire membership body) which made a number of serious allegations against the IACC and its president, Bob Barchiesi.

The results of the independent review were presented to the IACC’s board in August 2016 (and recently obtained by World Trademark Review). They concluded that governance and controls “have not kept up with the organisation's continued growth and success” and, in response, “certain informal practices and protocols will be formalised, reinforced via mandatory training and supervised to ensure proper accountability and transparency”. This includes retaining an independent accounting firm and another firm purposed with auditing the organisation’s finances. However, it stated that no evidence of misconduct or misrepresentation was found against Barchiesi. “The board is confident that none of the allegations made in the anonymous letter present any issue that would warrant a change in the leadership of the organisation,” the email stated. “Bob continues to have our full support and trust.”

With the independent review concluded, we wanted to get a broad spread of opinion on whether this eventful chapter was over or if IACC members feel significant issues remain unresolved.

Satisfaction high but priorities questioned

The World Trademark Review survey – which was not organised in conjunction with the IACC or authorised by it – ran for one week and was sent to a selected cross-section of the coalition’s membership body. The responses we received showed that, overall, satisfaction levels relating to many aspects of the IACC’s operations are high. The facilitation of training for third parties took top spot, with the organisation’s innovative approach to anti-counterfeiting measures also scoring well. “The training is the best in the industry and the programmes with the credit card companies and trade platforms are not only innovative and ground-breaking, they save my company tens of thousands of dollars,” commented one respondent. The full satisfaction level results are below:

Rate the following factors out of 5 (with 1 being very unsatisfied and 5 being very satisfied)

Average rating

Effective facilitation of training for third parties

4.54

Frequency of IACC-organised events

4.20

Innovative approach to anti-counterfeiting measures

3.98

Effective anti-counterfeiting advocacy/lobbying

3.87

Effectiveness of IACC Payment Processor Initiative (RogueBlock)

3.83

Value for money

3.71

Quality of IACC-organised events

3.71

Effectiveness of IACC MarketSafe Programme (in collaboration with Alibaba)

3.65

Transparency

3.16

Overall performance

3.87


The IACC’s ongoing advocacy work was consistently mentioned as something that must remain a priority. “Lobbying efforts are a benefit regardless of membership,” said one respondent. “[Another benefit is the] strength of a collective voice in effecting positive change (which is a diminishing benefit as membership shrinks).”

Another respondent felt that the organisation has shifted its attention elsewhere in recent years, arguing: “It needs to dramatically step up lobbying and educational efforts – brand members do not pay money to have the IACC turn into another vendor [and] that's not what my dues should be used for; simply put, the IACC is and should be an advocacy group for brand members and it has lost its way completely.” Yet not all respondents were despondent about the IACC’s vendor-like offerings. Both its RogueBlock and MarketSafe programmes, for example, were given mostly positive ratings, although sentiment on the latter was more mixed.

There was similarly varied feedback on the quality of the IACC’s two main events (the Spring and Fall meetings), with two concerns regularly mentioned: the frequent lack of CLE credits offered for attending IACC seminars; and the US-centric focus of many events, with one respondent stating: “In the past, the IACC dealt with more international issues and invited more international speakers [to its] annual conferences. Now it seems to us that the same speakers give presentations on the same topics during conferences – and many attendees say that conferences are boring and do not listen to the sessions. We want to listen to speakers from Asia, Middle East and Africa rather than just those from the United States and Latin America.”

Another respondent suggested the IACC should “move its annual meeting so that it is not right before the INTA Annual Meeting”, claiming it is “too much” to have the events so close together and that “attendance would be better” if the Spring conference was moved to earlier in the year. For its part, this year INTA has expanded the anti-counterfeiting focus of its Annual Meeting (with two anti-counterfeiting activities planned for the Friday of this year’s event, arguably taking it in direct competition with the IACC’s Spring Conference). It remains to be seen whether the IACC chooses to ‘decouple’ in the future.

An organisation divided

When respondents ranked how much they agreed with certain statements about the IACC, the responses were again mixed. But the fact that the vast majority of those who completed the survey – even those who have varied opinions overall – plan to continue renewing their membership demonstrates a belief that concerns can be addressed or are at least not worrying enough to compel departure from the organisation. The full agreement results are below:

Rate how much you agree with the following statements (with 1 being strongly disagree and 5 being strongly agree)

Average rating

I plan to renew my IACC membership for at least the next 12 months

4.23

The IACC is an effective organisation in the global fight against counterfeits

3.93

The IACC is an irreplaceable organisation for rights holders in the global fight against counterfeits

3.67

I feel that I can effectively communicate concerns or issues to the IACC's staff/management

3.66

Changes made at the IACC since the conclusion of last year's independent review have been satisfactory

3.59

I am pleased with the planned strategic direction of the IACC

3.57

I believe that the IACC's management works on behalf of its members effectively and transparently

3.29

The IACC should consider reintroducing an intermediary membership category

3.27


Despite the undoubtedly positive findings overall, the survey does reveal some lingering issues that came to the forefront in 2016. For example, the reintroduction of an intermediary membership category – the issue that sparked last year’s revolt – was the statement that attracted the least approval. Perceived lack of transparency is also a significant issue for many, with comments revealing concerns over this and the IACC’s leadership.

“While the evolution of the core mission has been exceptional, the evolution of the management structure has been dismal,” claimed one respondent, with others citing “questionable ethics of senior leadership”, “lack of consulting with the membership” and an “inability to raise questions or take a stand on issues” as key concerns. Another claimed that “many people at the leadership level have been in their positions too long – others should be given a chance to lead”, while one suggested that more opportunities should be offered to “younger people with more innovative ideas”. The board received criticism, too, with one respondent stating that the IACC “needs to have a board with more diversity in many areas, including region of origin and areas of expertise”.

When asked about the independent review, some respondents voiced discontent at the decision not to release the full report. “Members only know the results of the independent review, not the details,” one lamented, adding: “Instead of abdicating and letting brand members choose new leadership, they conducted a sham independent review to justify their utility.”

Respondent sentiment about the independent review and subsequent changes at the IACC confirm the fracture that seemingly exists between two groups of members. While there were claims of the audit being “a joke”, “a farce”, “fluff” and “watered down”, others characterised it as “expedient”, “fair and helpful”, “thorough” and “yielding a clean bill of health”. There were also those that staunchly defended the review's findings and slammed critical voices. “The independent review was done by a top firm and cleared anyone of any accusations”, stated one respondent, accusing critics of hiding behind an anonymous letter: “The authors had legitimate ways to express their concerns but instead chose to hide under the cloak of what they thought was secrecy.”

There was also a mixed response to the changes that the IACC have made since the conclusion of the independent review. Some claimed to be unaware of any having taken place or disappointed that meaningful change did not result, or spoke of a need for “new leadership and a renewed strategy/vision”. Others, though, said they had seen “much improvement” in the intervening months, while some attacked those that caused the review to take place in the first place. “The IACC didn't need to make changes, it is highly effective. They should have just ignored the letter – it was sent with an agenda,” claimed one respondent.

Bridging the divide

For the sake of transparency it is important to report that World Trademark Review made the editorial decision to remove a number of submissions to the survey due to highly unusual activity. At the same time as ensuring all responses are kept anonymous, the survey software does flag up duplicate entries. Although a degree of duplication is to be expected (as some organisations will have multiple active members), 43 submissions were sent from just three sources (with a staggering 29 from a single origin). In the excluded submissions, the comments were often the same or almost identical and the ratings had very little variation. As we perceived this to be a clear effort to undermine the survey and distort the results, we decided to remove these submissions.

It is unfortunate that a small number of respondents sought to swing the results, but overall member sentiment towards the IACC appears to be supportive. Most who voiced concern at certain elements of its activities or management appeared to do so in the hopes that things will improve or change. “The IACC needs to mature as an organisation more quickly,” said one respondent, with another saying it “should decide as to whether it will act on behalf of right holders in the United States” or “on behalf of all rights holders in the world”.

It appears, then, that the IACC is currently at a crossroads. It was set up in 1978 primarily to advocate for specific anti-counterfeiting legislation in the United States. It has spent much of its time in the decades since helping to lobby the US government – at both the federal and state level – to implement laws that help rights holders fight against the scourge of fakes. In many respects its original mission is complete. While numerous respondents to the survey complimented the IACC for how it has adapted to the challenges of tackling fakes sold on the internet, others voiced concern that its physical activities and advocacy efforts remain too US-focused.

What is clearly key is an open and honest dialogue between the membership body and senior management to figure out a clear long-term strategy for the future. This survey provides an indication of what members think this should be: a renewed focus on advocacy, public outreach, consumer education, and effecting change in legislation around the world. But to achieve this, the most pervasive ongoing concerns that members have must be addressed, especially around transparency and internal practices. To forge a successful way forward, the IACC must ensure the path ahead is clear, open and inclusive – and find a way to bridge the divide between agreeing and dissenting voices.

The IACC was asked if they wanted to supply reaction to the survey results, but they declined.

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