Christmas is looming large and the need to make last-minute purchases often drives consumers online. While online shopping brings huge convenience, that old-fashioned touch-and-feel test of quality is not possible, and even if most consumers accept this risk, many forget or are too naïve to ask a crucial question at the checkout page: are the goods in my cart the genuine article?

Counterfeit goods are a growing issue with sales totalling $1.7 trillion a year and escalating rapidly. Their proliferation disadvantages business owners who invest in developing and marketing the products, damaging the global economy as a whole, and of particular importance at Christmas, even the physical wellbeing of the purchasing public. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation estimated as long ago as 2002 that the cost to American businesses was $200 billion to $250 billion a year. Interpol has the view that intellectual property crime is becoming the preferred method of funding for a number of terrorist groups including Al Qaeda and Hezbollah. With fake goods now extending to pharmaceuticals, personal care, critical technology components, automotive, aerospace and consumer electronics, the health and safety consequences for the purchaser can be severe or even life threatening.

The rise of the online shopping mall such as Amazon, Etsy, Catch, Alibaba, Ebay and JD.com has brought winds of change in consumer behaviour and how we purchase everyday products. Beyond traditional brand protection strategies – including surveillance, reporting, and border control measures –and with over 5 million marketplace sellers making up $118.57 billion of product sales on Amazon alone in 2018, what tools exist for brand owners to mitigate against brand theft and help consumers buy the real thing?

Online marketplaces such as Amazon have introduced new services targeted at reducing sales of infringing or counterfeit goods. The Amazon Brand Registry allows brands and trade mark owners who sell goods on Amazon to nominate a registered trade mark to be enrolled on the registry and linked to their account. Following approval, the next time buyers search for an item on Amazon containing that trade mark, text- and image-based search algorithms powered by machine learning direct buyers to genuine listings either by the original brand owner or from authorised licensees. These algorithms also patrol the marketplace, automatically flagging suspicious goods, and enabling additional manual search functions to identify infringing or counterfeit goods bearing the registered trade mark. Getting on the register also gives brands access to Transparency, allowing brands to print QR codes on their goods which are then validated as genuine at Amazon Fulfilment Centres.

Currently, Amazon Brand Registry is an opt-in service with enrolment only requiring that brands have an Amazon Seller Account. After nominating a registered trade mark to be protected, Amazon contacts the registered trade mark agent on record and commences a verification process before protection can begin.

Taking brand protection measures into the online shopping mall is an important piece in a modern intellectual property strategy.