It has been reported that the sale and distribution of counterfeit goods seems to escalate during the Christmas season.  Counterfeit goods are everywhere, from fake clothing and detergents to poor quality toys which is particularly problematic at this time of the year.  As a consumer, you may choose to buy counterfeit goods and therefore are (presumably) prepared to take the risk that the goods are in some way sub-standard but what about the increasing number of us who end up with counterfeit goods believing we had purchased the genuine item?  A consumer could be left with a product they are disappointed with, and the legitimate brand owner is left with potentially declining profits and dwindling goodwill in the brand.

For all businesses, it is becoming increasingly important to understand where your product stands in the marketplace. If you have a suspicion that someone may be selling your product online or they are copying your brand identity or producing counterfeit products, there are options available to you to ensure that you do not lose any further money, brand reputation, or customers.

Expert Investigations, a nationwide commercial detective investigation agency have a wealth of experience investigating counterfeit product cases working on behalf of Intellectual property firms, authorities and brand owners.

In a recent case Expert Investigations were asked to investigate if fake car parts were being made and then sold on the internet. There was great concern about the safety of these parts being bought and put into cars by consumers who may have been under the impression they were genuine, as they would not have been of an adequate safety standard. Through lawful investigation methods such as background and database research, including surveillance, vehicle tracking and test purchasing, it was identified that there was a counterfeit operation in progress. Investigations identified all the parties involved, where the parts were being sold and made and due to the evidence gathered, Expert Investigations facilitated the operation to be shut down.

Test purchasing, is a form of investigation that Expert Investigations regularly carries out in order to test and track a product to gather enough evidence to prove whether the product is a counterfeit, how and where the product is being sold and who the product is being sold by. Many of these cases in which Expert Investigations have been involved included items such as counterfeit detergent, clothing brands and toys, which if the goods in question had not been found to be counterfeit, could not only of caused physical harm but would also have had a detrimental impact on the integrity of the brand and the company.

Once counterfeit goods have been identified as described above, companies should then be able to utilise their Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) to stop the ongoing infringement.  Every business has something worthy of protection, whether it be the brand name applied to a particular product, or an innovative invention.  It is paramount that businesses understand that what is theirs and how it can be protected.

The Home Office states that the cost of counterfeit goods on trademark owners, consumers and the UK economy is huge and the Gowers Review of Intellectual Property estimated that the criminal gain from counterfeiting in the UK is worth £1.3 billion annually.

So what should companies be considering to ensure that they are best placed to protect themselves for a successful and prosperous 2014?

You should work with your Intellectual Property advisors to consider all the available options to protect your company’s intellectual property rights; a patent protects an innovative idea, a registered design can protect the appearance of a product or packaging and a trade mark will protect your brand and potentially the product itself or the packaging.  Each IPR has different strengths and weaknesses but when combined correctly they can create a formidable force to take down the counterfeiters. Don’t limit your options by focussing solely on one IPR.

Rosalyn Newsome a Trade Mark Attorney and Brand specialist at Barker Brettell states If you’re a brand owner, timing is everything.All New Product Developments (NPD) should be kept confidential until the patent has been filed, as any prior disclosure could compromise the validity of the patent.  Ensure robust non-disclosure agreements are executed with all external organisations and be clear whether this relates to proposed brand identity too.

It is important to be able to have the right to control where and how your products are sold. It never fails to amaze me how many companies do not have adequate distribution agreements in place, particularly with manufacturers in the Far East.  87% of fake toys originate from China.  Don’t be naïve, it is very easy for manufacturers to increase the production run and siphon off “genuine” products to sell elsewhere’.

David Kearns, MD of Expert Investigations states ‘Any organisation should always be proactive in knowing where their products are being sold and how the company brand is being used. If you have suspicions of anything untoward going on then take action and investigate these concerns early. As early identification of these will not only save your company identity and reputation but also your customers safety and expectations’.

In short, make sure 2014 is a successful one for your company.  Expert Investigations can assist by identifying possible targets or unauthorised sale or distribution of your goods and Barker Brettell can assist in ensuring that your own IPRs are in place and thus you are ready and able to stop counterfeit goods encroaching on your profitability.