Creating a global anti-counterfeiting network

With a new year comes the opportunity for brand professionals to revisit and re-evaluate their anti-counterfeiting strategies and goals. Given that several factors may have a direct impact on this exercise – such as company size, financial resources, scope of IP portfolio and global presence – these efforts do not typically look the same across companies’ IP departments. There is, however, one constant for brand professionals when it comes to establishing a successful anti-counterfeiting strategy for their company or firm: the ability to lean on and learn from a global network of experts.

As a global association of brand owners and professionals, the International Trademark Association (INTA), with members in 185 countries, is uniquely positioned to support brand professionals in expanding their global anti-counterfeiting network and in developing an enforcement strategy aligned with both the evolving role of brands in society and the global marketplace, and consumers’ ever-changing expectations and purchasing habits.

Why is a global anti-counterfeiting network important?

The value of a brand professional’s external network should not be downplayed: it is arguably as valuable as the internal resources a company or firm dedicates and deploys to combat counterfeiting, if not more so.

As trends in anti-counterfeiting quickly evolve, especially when it comes to emerging technologies and online enforcement, brand owners and professionals may not always be up to speed on how to address those evolving challenges. It is therefore critical that brand professionals can quickly and easily reach into their local, regional and global networks to benchmark, discuss relevant updates and information and share potential solutions.

INTA provides brand owners and professionals with a network of like-minded individuals who are dedicated to supporting trademarks and complementary intellectual property to foster consumer trust and economic growth, and who are committed to building a better society through brands. INTA provides its members with the framework to build and facilitate a collaborative multi-stakeholder anti-counterfeiting network, as well as access to global IP resources, education and training, and policy development, which they can integrate into their own anti-counterfeiting strategies and goals.

INTA members are supported by, and have access to, its global anti-counterfeiting network.

INTA’s global anti-counterfeiting network

INTA’s Anti-counterfeiting Committee (ACC) is dedicated to the enforcement and advancement of anti-counterfeiting procedures worldwide. With 290 volunteer members in 71 countries around the world, the ACC is a truly global network. It is also the largest of INTA’s 37 committees.

The ACC is divided into nine regional subcommittees: Canada; China; East Asia and the Pacific; Eastern Europe and Central Asia; Latin America and the Caribbean; the Middle East and Africa, South Asia; the United States; and Western Europe. Additionally, the ACC has three global project teams – Anti-counterfeiting Policy, Global Customs and Online Counterfeiting – that bring together members from the regional subcommittees to focus on key issues.

The ACC evaluates treaties, laws and regulations related to anti-counterfeiting and enforcement; develops and advocates for strong policies to protect against infringement; and promotes enforcement education.

The ACC began the 2022–2023 committee term under the new leadership of committee chair Claudette Vernot (Estrategia Jurídica, Colombia) and committee vice chair Tara Steketee (Merck & Co, Inc, United States).

As ACC chair, Vernot has made it one of her priorities to emphasise the global reach of INTA’s global anti-counterfeiting network: “Our Committee, through its members in nine regions globally, works to adopt enforcement measures and to send recommendations to governments. This work would be difficult for a brand owner to do individually. INTA provides this support as an international association.” She further explained:

There are some countries in which the doors were closed to brand owners. INTA has achieved, through its active volunteers on the ground, an approach so that, for example, customs offices receive information on the products of brand owners that are affected by counterfeiting. Each jurisdiction has different challenges, and our members constantly work to assist brand owners reach solutions.

INTA’s anti-counterfeiting policies are driven by the objectives identified and developed by the nine regional subcommittees, with input from INTA staff. The objectives guide the regional groups over the course of the term on the basis of priority issues and emerging trends in their jurisdictions.

For example, over the next two years, the China subcommittee, together with the INTA’s policy and advocacy team, will develop an advocacy action plan to address fake stores. This will be undertaken in conjunction with local agencies of the Chinese State Administration for Market Regulation. The 2019 survey “Fake Store Trends in China” conducted by the China subcommittee explored the types of fake store issues that brand owners face and found that 75 per cent stated that their biggest issue was stores that falsely claimed to be authorised resellers, distributors or service providers.

The Latin America and the Caribbean subcommittee will identify advocacy opportunities to engage with customs offices and the major entry ports of the region to develop best practices for customs recordals.

The United States subcommittee will promote and advocate for key INTA positions through policy dialogues with government officials, covering issues such as the proceeds of counterfeiting, remarking as criminal counterfeiting and the appointment of third-party expert witnesses on judicial anti-counterfeiting cases.

The Anti-counterfeiting Policy global project team assists in developing anti-counterfeiting positions for INTA and the ACC implementation plans on a global scale. It identifies policy issues, elicits and coordinates input from each subcommittee and drafts resolutions for the INTA board’s consideration and position papers on INTA’s anti-counterfeiting policies. INTA’s advocacy team, with the support of the regional subcommittees, will then seek various opportunities to advocate those positions in key jurisdictions.

Among its projects over the next two years, the Anti-counterfeiting Policy global project team is developing an inventory of current INTA positions and advocacy materials on anti-counterfeiting issues and proposing revisions to INTA’s Model Law Guidelines on Counterfeiting Enforcement in Free Trade Zones.

Through those efforts, the ACC – both the regional subcommittees and the global project teams – provides a solid structural organisation for regional, national and local advocacy. This framework not only supports INTA with policies for its own global efforts, but it also provides INTA members around the world with meaningful resources, tools and guidance that they can integrate into their own anti-counterfeiting strategies and goals.

INTA’s global anti-counterfeiting network also includes various external stakeholders. Anti-counterfeiting is bigger than any one organisation can tackle alone: it must involve collaboration between the various players, including:

  • industry, which can play a key role in helping governments better understand the practical implications of policy and legislative decisions;
  • police, prosecutors and the judiciary on the enforcement front;
  • intermediaries and online marketplaces;
  • investigators hired by brand owners to identify counterfeiters and to collaborate with police; and
  • legislators working to strengthen anti-counterfeiting laws and empower enforcement officials.

INTA is facilitating collaboration between brands and these other stakeholders involved in anti-counterfeiting. “The ACC facilitates collaboration across all sectors and industries in a manner that is unique to INTA, with a level of member participation globally that helps to shape anti-counterfeiting policy worldwide,” explains Steketee. She adds:

Our work is member driven, so it’s not surprising that we have immense member engagement and increasing interest in ACC – it’s one of the only environments in which members of the anti-counterfeiting community has an opportunity to work side-by-side with the key players, including intermediaries, rights holders, law firms, and online IP enforcement and investigative service providers.

Drawing on INTA’s strategic plan

While brand professionals must focus on the granular details as they identify and evaluate anti-counterfeiting initiatives, they should also take the time to understand how their day-to-day work and departmental vision tie into their organisation’s broader strategies. INTA’s 2022–2025 Strategic Plan provides members a blueprint to consider how anti-counterfeiting connects with other significant focus areas affecting brands.

The plan sheds light on INTA’s strategy and key initiatives for the next four years, and how INTA is intentionally evolving to keep up with – and drive – change in the IP industry.

INTA will focus on the following strategic directions over the next four years:

  1. promotion and reinforcement of the value of brands;
  2. building of a better society through brands; and
  3. support of the development of IP professionals.

INTA’s anti-counterfeiting primarily falls under the first strategic direction (point (1)). As part of this strategy, INTA will:

  • advocate for effective enforcement mechanisms;
  • engage legislators, judiciaries, customs authorities, law enforcement authorities and investigators to address counterfeiting in both physical and online marketplaces;
  • remain at the forefront of the global fight against counterfeiting to protect consumers as well as brand owners; and
  • inform courts through amicus filings, and education and communication on the value of brands for businesses, consumers and society at large.

INTA encourages its members – as well as the IP community – to utilise the Strategic Plan as a framework to consider issues that will impact the global IP practitioner of the future, as well as the companies and firms they represent.

Anti-counterfeiting and consumer trust

INTA’s Strategic Plan emphasises a significant area of crossover with anti-counterfeiting: corporate social responsibility (CSR) and environmental, social and governance (ESG). Brand professionals should recognise that their work in anti-counterfeiting can contribute to their brands’ CSR and ESG strategy and programmes.

In 2019, INTA convened the Brands for a Better Society presidential task force of INTA members to research the impact that brands have on society and how business is improving its efforts to foster positive change. As part of this project, the task force conducted a survey of the INTA membership, with the results being published in the Brands and CSR Survey Report. Encouragingly, 84 per cent of the survey respondents agreed “that incorporating CSR policies and adopting sustainability principles as an operational priority constitutes good economic practice and will benefit a company and/or brand.”

It was also clear from the survey results that INTA should take a leading role in highlighting the connection between intellectual property, CSR and brand value by presenting the meaningful impact that business can have on both the bottom line and society. To this end, at the start of the 2020–2021 committee term, INTA established the Brands for a Better Society Committee to act on the report’s findings and lead INTA’s CSR strategy.

The key link between intellectual property and CSR is trust. Intellectual property, and trademarks specifically, serve as the foundation of trust between brands and consumers. Over the years, Edelman Trust Barometer reports have highlighted that consumers increasingly trust brands that assume societal leadership.

The 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: Trust, The New Brand Equity, concludes that brands have an unprecedented responsibility to improve society. Eighty-eight per cent of the survey respondents said that trust in the brand was critical or important when deciding which brand to use or buy, noting that “brands must play a broader role in society and link their efforts to the corporate ethos.”

Further, in the agency’s 2022 Trust Barometer, 58 per cent of respondents said they will buy or advocate for brands based on their beliefs and values, and 64 per cent said the same about investing in brands.

Counterfeiting undermines consumer trust and, by extension, a brand’s CSR efforts. Given how important CSR has become for consumers today, brands should approach IP protection and CSR programmes as interdependent strategic priorities. This is how brands can build and protect trust among consumers, and offers an opportunity for brand professionals to prioritise their company’s anti-counterfeiting programme, as well as play a central role in their company’s CSR programme.

As Steketee noted, “Raising awareness and advocacy around the threats of counterfeiting is a critical component of a holistic anti-counterfeiting approach for many companies, and the advocacy channels provided to us by the ACC are especially useful in communicating meaningful impact as part of our CSR goals.”

Engaging young consumers

Addressing the production and sale of counterfeit goods is critical, but it is also important to address the demand for fake goods. Likewise, brand professionals must look beyond their relationships with industry colleagues and consider consumers as part of the global anti-counterfeiting network – and arguably as their most important stakeholder. Brand owners and practitioners must understand consumer attitudes and perceptions of counterfeits and the importance of different considerations that influence the purchase of those products.

In particular, brand professionals should pay attention to the world’s largest group of consumers, Generation Z (Gen Z). INTA’s 2019 attitudinal study, entitled “Gen Z Insights: Brands and Counterfeit Products”, explores the relationship between Gen Z, brands and their attitudes and perceptions of counterfeit products. It unpacks the importance of the different practical and ethical considerations that influence Gen Z’s purchases of counterfeit products. One of its key findings is that 85 per cent of survey respondents in 10 countries believe that brands should aim to do good in the world.

The Unreal Campaign is INTA’s consumer awareness initiative to educate young adults aged 14 to 23 years about the importance of trademarks and brands and the dangers of purchasing counterfeit products. In working to curb the proliferation of counterfeit products worldwide, INTA emphasises that brand owners seek to protect trademark rights and their consumers – pointing to the links between fake goods and health and safety risks, organised crime, job losses and damage to local communities and their economies.

The Unreal Campaign has reached young consumers through illustrative, relatable presentations, largely at schools, youth-oriented events and virtual platforms, as well as through social media. With the support of the Unreal Campaign Committee (UCC) and other volunteers, this consumer awareness initiative has directly reached more than 60,000 students in 40 countries since the campaign was unveiled in 2012.

The UCC began its 2022–2023 term under the new leadership of committee chair Eryck Castillo (Uhthoff, Gomez Vega & Uhthoff, SC, Mexico) and vice chair Rachna Bakhru (RNA Technology and IP Attorneys, India). Among their goals over the next two years, they hope INTA members will facilitate the relaying of 150 presentations to 15,000 students worldwide, including making first-time presentations in four additional countries.

These ambitious efforts are only possible through the UCC’s dedicated network of global volunteers. “The fight against counterfeits is a joint responsibility of brands, governments, and consumers. If consumers understand and appreciate the risk of buying counterfeit products and cheap imitations, counterfeiters will face less offtake, and not manufacture them,” noted Bakhru.

“Over the past two years the Unreal Campaign Committee has reached thousands of students from more than 30 countries to teach them about the importance of buying legitimate products and the dangers of counterfeit goods,” said Castillo. “Young adults are mostly unaware of how counterfeiting activities are often linked to organised crime. We are still far away from eradicating these criminal activities. However, we believe educating young adults is a great step towards this objective.”

INTA invites all its members – not only those on the UCC – to provide training sessions to students and young consumers around the globe. Following a successful partnership with the Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles in 2021, INTA is looking to collaborate with other like-minded organisations to promote the role of brands in society, the value of authenticity and leadership, and the importance of intellectual property and trademarks in the daily lives of consumers.

Meeting of minds

Perhaps the best opportunity for brand professionals to expand their global anti-counterfeiting network, to learn about cutting-edge enforcement strategies and to benchmark with colleagues from around the world is INTA’s annual meeting, the largest global gathering of brand professionals.

The 2022 Annual Meeting Live+, taking place from 30 April to 4 May, will provide both in-person and virtual opportunities for business development, networking, education and insight from the international community on the challenges and opportunities brands face today. This hybrid formula will advance INTA into the future, while at the same time accommodating different schedules, budgets, personal preferences and other circumstances.

Enforcement and anti-counterfeiting will once again be featured as an educational track. Sessions on this track will take place on 3 May. As usual, the meeting will also include the annual anti-counterfeiting workshop, taking place on 30 April.

INTA looks forward to providing this forum for IP professionals to come together – both in person and virtually – to prioritise their anti-counterfeiting strategies and goals for 2022 and beyond, and, more importantly, to continue to create and expand their global anti-counterfeiting networks.

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