Be on the lookout for counterfeits

Consumers can take steps to protect themselves and their favorite brands while shopping

As most people lead busier lives attending to family and career, the convenience of shopping on the Internet has become an essential part of life. But shoppers beware — the substantial and growing problem of counterfeit goods sold online is at an all-time high.

It is easy and inexpensive to create a rogue website to sell counterfeit goods. It is also easy to sell, source and ship the fake products from anywhere in the world while remaining relatively anonymous. Operating in a foreign country allows counterfeiters to keep all their inventory and assets away from the regulatory strength and enforcement of the United States

And the manufacture and sale of counterfeit goods is not a victimless crime. Not only does counterfeiting damage a brand’s reputation and consumer confidence, it costs legitimate businesses billions of dollars in lost sales every year. The lost tax revenue to our local and state governments is also substantial.

Counterfeiting is connected to child labor and even funding organized crime and terrorism. Counterfeiters also collect personal and financial data in the process. Fortunately, along with a band of intellectual property attorneys and assistance from the U.S. government, brand owners are doing their best to protect themselves and consumers.

Many companies are taking a proactive role in defending their brands by registering and recording their trademarks and copyrights. This allows the government to seize and destroy infringing products before they reach consumers. For the fiscal year 2012, as ranked by total manufacturer suggested retail price, the top three commodity categories for seizures included handbags and wallets, watches and jewelry, and clothing and accessories.

Many brands train their employees to spot fakes and report information provided by loyal customers who have come across counterfeit products or rogue websites. As consumers, we can and should take an active role on behalf of our favorite brands.

Intellectual property attorneys are also busy fighting the fakes. No matter where a counterfeiter is located, either state-side or in a foreign country, American trademark lawyers are taking an aggressive approach to disable rogue websites, recover cybersquatted domain names and prevent or disable new sites set up by the same counterfeiters.

Armed with this information, what can shoppers do to avoid getting duped or to simply do their part to protect a favorite luxury brand? Trust your instincts and beware of the “too good to be true” scenario. Also, seek quality assurances from online re-sellers including comprehensive inspection and authentication procedures. It’s also important to avoid opening spam that leads to suspicious websites. And, if you discover a rogue website selling counterfeit goods, report the information to the brand owner or the authorities. Brand owners appreciate and rely on investigatory clues from loyal customers.

Authors Nancy R. Ayala and Laraine M.I. Burrell are intellectual property attorneys at Greenberg Traurig, LLP. They counsel clients regarding the protection and enforcement of all intellectual property rights, and also litigate trademark, copyright, counterfeiting and internet related disputes, including cybersquatting.

Tags: Opinion, Business