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Protect your brand from online counterfeits

By Rachel Jones, head dragon, SnapDragon Monitoring

No one likes a copycat, and when it comes to your brand, imitation is certainly not the most sincere form of flattery.

Growing at an eye-watering 15 per cent per year, by 2020 global counterfeit sales are estimated to reach over $1.82 trillion. The damage resulting from these sales can have major consequences and threatens the existence of many companies, but especially small businesses.

Most large companies have professional brand protection experts on payroll allowing them to avoid the full force of online counterfeiting. Yet for small businesses who often lack the knowledge and resources to fight back, it’s a very different story.

With high-tech equipment, counterfeiters can manufacture convincing knock-offs for a fraction of what it costs to produce the real thing. These products are then sold at lower than retail price, undercutting brands and luring in bargain-hungry consumers. The end result? Disappointing, potentially dangerous rip-offs which can cause irreparable reputational damage.

The financial implications can be catastrophic too, especially for small brands reliant on intellectual property (IP). This is evidenced by the estimates of the FSB which state that almost a third of small companies with IP rely on protection for three-quarters of their turnover.

Small businesses are stuck between a rock and a hard place: they can’t afford to fall foul of counterfeiting scams, but also often can’t afford the protection that is enjoyed by larger brands.

So, what can they do to protect themselves? As it turns out, quite a lot.


Trademarks are your best form of protection, so make sure you register them in any country you intend to trade in. While they can cost as little as £200 in the UK, if you’re finding this expensive then your main targets should be your home market and China, where counterfeiting is particularly prevalent. You won’t regret doing this, should any copycats strike.

Register with the authorities

You should also register your company, for free, with customs authorities via an application for action and CITEX. Registering with EUIPO’s Enforcement Database is also advisable. Completing these registrations ensures that customs agencies throughout the EU will be on the lookout for products similar to your own and should also allow you to prosecute counterfeiters if any fakes are discovered.

Secret ingredients

Including an identifier on your product such as a secret logo, or a specific type of thread, can also help to protect your brand. This should be hidden and shared on a ‘need to know’ basis with relevant authorities. In doing this, you give customs authorities an easier way to separate genuine products from knockoffs, allowing copycats and fakes to be spotted and confiscated. Updating your packing regularly is also a good idea.

Stay updated

It is advisable to learn as much as you can about intellectual property infringement. You should make sure that you keep updated and learn about current counterfeiting scams prevalent in your industry. Staying one step ahead of any would-be counterfeiters at all times will save you a headache or two further down the line.

Consider China

While there is no doubt that counterfeiting in China is a problem, there are a lot of advantages to manufacturing there as long as you are properly protected. If you do decide to do so, ensure that you visit and develop a relationship with your factory. Factories working directly with brands are much less likely to rip you off. 

Consider a non-disclosure, non-use, non-circumvention (NNN) agreement. This can be more effectively enforced in China and is better than a standard UK or US Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA). Ensure this is signed before sharing any information about your product to keep your IP as safe and secure as possible.

Online brand protection

It’s important to have your finger on the pulse when it comes to online counterfeits. Affordable brand protection firms monitor the world’s largest ecommerce sites for counterfeit items and can offer support throughout the removal process and beyond.