• eBay launches programme to verify second-hand luxury goods
  • Initially extends to 12 fashions brands, including Chanel and Gucci
  • Experts say it will stop consumers unintentionally purchasing fakes

Leading online marketplace eBay has launched an innovative new programme to verify high-priced fashion and luxury goods. While it will not lead to a significant reduction in the overall volume of online counterfeiting, experts tell World Trademark Review that the service could have a significant impact on the most damaging form of illicit internet sales – those where consumers who intend to buy an authentic product unwittingly end up with a fake.

The digital retail platform previously announced eBay Authenticate back in January, and confirmed on Monday that it had initiated a trial run of the new programme. As its name implies, the service is designed to verify the authenticity of second-hand luxury products (worth at least $500) being sold on the platform. This will be done by allowing eBay vendors to send their items to specialists who will check their authenticity, before listing and shipping the product to their buyers. The scheme will initially extend only to 12 fashion brands, including Burberry, Chanel, Gucci and Louis Vuitton, but will be expanded to include more brands and product categories sometime next year.

Of course, sales of fake but high-priced luxury goods comprise only a small proportion of counterfeit sales online, which involve a large volume of purchases across a broad range of product types and industry sectors. Therefore, on the face of it, the fake goods this new programme will identify are a drop in the ocean compared to the scale of the problem. This point was emphasised by Dennis Collopy, a University of Hertfordshire academic. “I don’t think this will have a significant impact on the scale of the problem”, he told us. “In this online environment, counterfeiters can simply move from one platform to another if ever their activities are disrupted.” Indeed, Collop recently published a UKIPO-commissioned study on online counterfeiting which found that it is by no means confined to major e-commerce websites, but operates in a complicated and ever-changing social media nexus.

But eBay Authenticate does address one issue effectively, says Dieter Delarue of Van Innis & Delarue, a Belgian boutique with many high-end luxury brand clients: “The good news for trademark owners is that the new platform will have an impact on perhaps the most dangerous source of reputational damage suffered by a trademark: a negative product experience by a consumer who wrongfully believes to have bought an authentic product, and links the bad quality of the knock-off product to the trademark. The use of this new eBay platform and similar platforms that exist already should result in a decrease of the number of unconscious fake purchases and the frustration that typically comes along with them,” he told World Trademark Review. Collopy reiterates this point, remarking that, while the scheme won’t stop consumers who seek out counterfeits, “it will definitely help resolve issues for potentially deceived consumers”.

Becoming a trusted platform for consumers seeking to avoid counterfeit transactions is clearly a goal that eBay, and indeed all major online marketplaces, want to achieve. Chief rival Alibaba – which for years has been heavily criticised for the scale of counterfeits on its platforms – has noticeably stepped up its efforts in the last couple of years; it has launched new rights protections platforms and even founded a major anti-counterfeiting alliance. This has led to long-running lawsuits against Alibaba being dropped, previous critics voicing support for its work and even executive chairman Jack Ma bragging that the company is now “the online leader in anti-counterfeiting”.

This has put the pressure on eBay to ensure that its rights protection mechanisms are still seen as the ‘gold standard’ in the online marketplace environment. Indeed, according to our latest Annual Trademark Benchmarking Survey, trademark practitioners still rate eBay as having the best IP reporting tools of any digital marketplace – and it has topped that ranking for a number of years. With the launch of Authenticate, this may be eBay’s attempt to retain that crown into the future.