How eBay and Alibaba Say They’re Making Sure the Billions of Listings on Their Sites Aren’t Counterfeit

Protecting their intellectual property has long been the bane of many a brands’ existence. Add to the mix the often unpoliced and endless aisles of online shopping and many fashion and footwear labels struggle to make e-commerce work fairly for them.

At a seminar during FN Platform in Las Vegas today, executives from eBay Inc. and Alibaba Holdings Ltd. — the latter of which has faced particularly high criticism over its perceived lack of vigor in protecting both sellers and buyers using its platform — said they have thrown new resources behind protecting the IP rights of sellers and buyers using their platforms. (The news comes at the same time competitor Amazon finally admitted to its own struggles with counterfeit goods on the website.)

Daniel Dougherty, senior director of global IP enforcement at Alibaba, said the mega e-tail firm has moved aggressively to launch (and enhance) a number of IP protection initiatives including a partnership with Washington, D.C.-based International AntiCounterfeiting Coalition as well as a program that allows trademark and patent holders to report alleged counterfeits and have them taken down quickly — often within 24 hours — as a good-faith measure.

“It’s an evidence-based take-down process — you provide some evidence as to what your rights are and [about the] trademarks and patents [you own] and why you think [an item for sale on Alibaba’s platforms] is a counterfeit [and so on], and submit that information through the program,” Dougherty said of the latter effort. “We do know that there may be people who report often and who try to get things taken down [to gain] a competitive advantage — but we also know that the vast majority of reporters have legitimate IP rights. So our good-faith program [holds that] if you have an established history of reporting accurately — rather than doing all of the due diligence for each submission — we will [review] your history of accuracy, and that will be sufficient [to execute a takedown]. So the burdens of reporting is a little lighter, and it helps you maneuver more easily.”

Julien Dudouit, global IP brand manager of legal intellectual property at eBay, said its efforts to protect sellers and buyers are also motivated by a greater awareness that the platform’s success hinges on protecting its reputation.

“A lot of people tend to forget that eBay is also a brand — a very famous brand — and we have to protect it just like others have to protect their brands,” Dudouit said. “We don’t have so much issues in terms of counterfeit product, but we do encounter lots of IP issues such as fake websites, and people using our logos, which creates confusion with the consumer, and we have to enforce [our IP rights].”

Dudouit added that eBay has “a lot people [who] work 24/7” to keep its anticounterfeit measures running smoothly and that the site monitors transactions and reports suspicious activity to law enforcement. Like Alibaba, the company has a system, the Verified Rights Owner program, that allows patent and trademark owners and their representatives to report potentially infringing eBay listings.

For its part, Alibaba said that it has already seen improvements in the number of knockoffs on its site since launching new strategies. Dougherty said today that the platform has experienced a 36 percent uptick in the number of registered accounts in its IP protection system and a 44 percent decline in takedown requests — a suggestion that the strategy has served as both a remedy and a deterrent.

Panelist Deborah Greaves, intellectual property attorney and partner at law firm Brutzkus Gubner, also had advice for brands selling on eBay, Alibaba or elsewhere online about how best to protect themselves.

“The first thing you have to do is get registered for your intellectual property rights,” she said. “[If you’re] a U.S. brand, start with U.S. registration, but if you’re trying to enforce those rights on a platform that’s [elsewhere in the world such as] Russia, you may need to be [educated] on that law. But if you’re [based] in the U.S., start at home and then branch out.”

The panel was hosted by the American Apparel and Footwear Association. Steve Lamar, EVP, was the seminar’s moderator.

FN Platform is taking place at the Las Vegas Convention Center on Feb. 5-7.

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