What led you to a career in brand protection and what advice do you have for anyone considering an IP role in the corporate environment?
I have always been passionate about consumer-facing brands. Intellectual property is such a fundamental part of ensuring that brands are successfully positioned to protect and monetise their creativity successfully. Brand protection is not just about money and protecting revenue though. It is about doing the right thing. If deployed successfully, anti-counterfeiting operations can help to make a real difference.
Deploying these skills in-house means that you are at the forefront of brand strategy – devising and developing an approach with the commercial interests of the brand right at the centre of decision making.
Superdry prides itself on its ‘zero tolerance’ approach to online fraud and counterfeiting. What exactly does this entail?
Put simply, if we identify acts of fraud or counterfeiting, we will invest the resources in doing all that we can to prevent it. This is not always easy. Criminals are always developing and advancing new methods and channels to market, so brands need to stay ahead of the game. This means embracing and harnessing new technology, as well as understanding and identifying trends – especially in the digital arena.
How do you help key stakeholders to weigh up risk and reward when it comes to IP investment?
I think this is pretty straightforward. Intellectual property is an asset – something that Superdry uses to monetise its brand through franchising and licensing and something that it can use to protect its brand. Ultimately, the more effective the investment and the better it is deployed, the greater that return on investment and the less the brand is diluted. Engaging with key stakeholders is also vital. If executed properly, a brand protection strategy can add tangible value and enhance and supplement strategic decisions made across other parts of the business, such as performance marketing or social activation.
With more and more consumers turning to e-commerce, how can brand owners work with online platforms and regulatory authorities to better protect their IP rights online?
Brands have to be fully engaged with marketplaces and all digital routes to market. Having a strong online brand protection strategy is one thing, but it needs to be supported by a collaborative approach with platforms, internet service providers, regulators and of course other brands with shared interests. In a sea of brands and online offerings, it is vital to invest the time and energy to build awareness, participate in collaborative initiatives, register interests and invest in technology.
How do you see your primary markets changing in the next few years, and how will brand strategies have to adapt to this?
The migration to online will obviously continue, but platforms will also evolve. We are seeing new channels and opportunities for counterfeiters emerge all the time and we have to stay on top of this.
I have probably been saying this for years, but brands must continuously improve the way that they manage their online strategy through the smart use of technology. I am seeing the emergence of some really exciting pieces of technology to support this – whether it is IP address clustering, image recognition technology, AI tools or product verification.
Deploying all of this to maximise return on investment will require smart and focused investment, as well as keeping an open mind. I also find it useful to share ideas with my peers; we rarely have all the answers but learning from other industry leaders is hugely valuable.
Head of Legal
James Sweeting is head of legal at Superdry plc – a global, multi-channel brand and retailer based in the United Kingdom. Superdry’s IP and brand protection team advises its business on every aspect of its operations all over the world. Mr Sweeting’s team is a vital extension of Superdry’s creative team and works with it to protect and monetise the brand’s IP rights across the globe.