Any company with a popular product or brand should be aware that it may already be a victim of product counterfeiting. No longer are counterfeiters solely targeting manufacturers of high-end watches, handbags or wearing apparel; they are clearly involved in trafficking counterfeit good and merchandise across the spectrum. Any company with a valuable brand should consider itself an actual or potential target of these criminal organizations.
Brand owners, no matter the nature of their brand, should consider some of the following indicators as possible warning signs of a potential counterfeiting threat:
Although inquiries from governmental agencies may be an alert that trafficking of counterfeit product is taking place, such communication is also an opportunity for the brand owner to enlist support from the investigating agency or governmental department.
To effectively collaborate with law enforcement or the agency involved, keep in mind that law enforcement personnel are appreciative of any direct support that may be provided by the brand owner during the conduct of their investigation. However, the investigative officers take full ownership of such investigations and will at times only accept limited assistance from the company involved.
A very effective tool in securing “buy-in” from governmental agencies is to provide no-cost training to investigators as to the identification and authentication of suspected counterfeit products, as well as methods of detecting and identifying potential traffickers.
This effort not only provides information important to a successful investigation, but also provides the opportunity for “trainers” to effectively liaison with investigators. An effective and long-standing working relationship with law enforcement may result from this investment.
While law enforcement and regulatory agencies may appreciate any information provided by the brand owner, it is imperative the information be complete and detailed. All inquiries should provide enough detailed information to allow agents or officers to initiate an investigation with confidence that violations have either occurred or are in the planning stages. Provide specific information and avoid generalities.
Choose an appropriate company representative to present the company’s position to regulators or law enforcement. The individual should meet with investigative agencies, be very familiar with the product, and be well prepared to answer any questions that may be posed.
Serious consideration should be given to utilizing a private investigator or other person familiar with Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) issues and investigations. Whomever the representative, he or she should be able to establish immediate rapport and credibility with the government agency involved.