Intellectual property violation in Thailand and the Philippines thriving during Covid-19

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WRITTEN BY XUAN NGUYEN

Due to the social distancing measures imposed during the Covid-19 pandemic, people are massively relying on the internet for both their work and their leisure activities. Online shopping has dominated the market as a result of quarantine and isolation.

The Covid-19 emergency has engendered many challenges for intellectual property (IP) protection thanks to the rocketing increase of counterfeit goods being offered for sale on the internet. This is especially prevalent among products in high demand, such as facemasks, hand sanitisers, antiviral medication, vitamins, pharmaceuticals, foods, beverages, household products, electronics, DIY tools, entertainment technology, etc.

In this article, we present some updated statistics reflecting the alarming rise in IP infringement during the crisis in some South-East Asian countries.

Thailand

According to the latest IP Enforcement Statistics for Thailand, the number of raids and seizures between January and April 2020, compared to the same period in the previous year, has risen acutely (by 31.82% and 1 967.6%, respectively).

Thailand

Philippines

The Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines (IPOPHL) recently published 2019 vs 2020 IP rights violation data showing the dramatic surge in complaints that they received in the first 6 months of 2020 compared to the previous year.

Philippines

Suggestions for protecting your IP during the crisis

  • Proactively monitor e-commerce and social media platforms. As counterfeiters overwhelming use online platforms to sell their products, regularly checking to detect fakes and initiating early interventions will save you a lot of money and time. Online shopping makes payments cashless; this also enables companies to easily track and investigate the sources of fake goods. This is a big advantage when it comes to stamping out counterfeiting.
  • Conduct online trainings and encourage the community to report fakes. Providing trainings to consumers on how to distinguish between authentic products and fake ones, and on where they can buy the real ones, is worthwhile. Companies should also encourage the community to report cases of counterfeiting and make online tools available so people can easily submit complaints.
  • Take-down notices. If you have reliable evidence of counterfeit goods being sold on e-commerce or social media platforms, prepare a take-down notice (with the supporting documents necessary) asking the operators to immediately remove the infringing products.
  • Inform the competent authorities. For larger cases, you can consider to inform the competent authorities to promptly stop the infringement, for example by blocking the importation of the counterfeit goods or by seizing them.
  • Seek advice from local IP experts. It is always advisable to consult local experts with experience in enforcement to be sure you are doing things the right way; in South-East Asia, neither the law nor business practices are the same as in Europe.

 

The South-East Asia IPR SME Helpdesk is an EU initiative that provides free, practical IPR advice to European SMEs in South-East Asia. EU companies can send questions to question@southeastasia-iprhelpdesk.eu and receive a reply within 3 working days.

Online IP Infringement in South-East Asia: How to protect your business

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WRITTEN BY XUAN NGUYEN

 

The South-East Asian internet economy has witnessed a striking increase

According to the latest report by Google, Temasek and Bain & Company, the number of internet users in South-East Asia (SEA) has increased rapidly, reaching 360 million in 2019 — 100 million more than in 2015. Powered by rapid adoption and changing consumer preferences, the South-East Asian internet economy has leapt nearly 40 % from last year to exceed USD 100 billion, and is on track to hit USD 300 billion in 2025. The region has seen booming development, especially in the e-commerce sector. In 2015, 49 million people bought or sold items online. Today, that number has tripled to 150 million.[1]

Photo source: https://pixabay.com

Photo source: https://pixabay.com

The internet is fueling a dramatic rise in counterfeit and pirated products

It is obvious that the internet has brought enormous opportunities for companies, especially Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) to develop and expand their business internationally. However, on the other hand, digitalisation also creates fertile ground for online intellectual property (IP) infringement, such as counterfeiting products, pirated goods, cybersquatting, stolen trade secrets, etc. As a result, it has caused various negative impacts on the sales, profits and reputations of affected companies as well as having broader adverse effects on the economy and public health, safety and security.

‘The Economic Impacts of Counterfeiting and Piracy’ report from Frontier Economics pointed out that the estimated value of total counterfeit and pirated goods in the world was USD 923 billion – 1.13 trillion in 2013 and is forecasted to reach an astounding USD 1.90 – 2.81 trillion in 2022.[2]

As it is now easier for everyone to buy and sell goods online, fake and pirated products are booming in SEA, across various e-commerce platforms, social media channels (Facebook, Instagram, TikTok) and a number of local websites. Consumers are offered a wide variety of counterfeit and pirated products. These items can be labelled with a counterfeited trade mark or just replicate the appearance of the original goods, and they are sold at any price-scale. Products majorly exposed to online counterfeiting are fashion retail, electronics, perfume and cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, FMCG, baby products, alcohol and automotive.[3] The origin of the fake products being sold in SEA varies, they can be produced locally or imported from  other countries notorious for manufacturing counterfeits, such as China, India and Turkey.

Online counterfeit and pirated goods have caused serious damage to the sales and profits of IP owners, jeopardised brand reputations and rendered the consumer less interested in authentic products. Vendors often use pictures of the original goods to attract consumers and then provide a counterfeit product. Ultimately, customers start to lose interest in affected brands.

An even more serious concern is connected with the use of fake products in the pharmaceutical, chemical, foods and beverages sectors. These products are not subject to controls like the original ones, and can seriously affect the consumers’ health.

How to combat online infringement

Online IP infringement is growing exponentially in SEA, for many reasons. IP rights are territorial, however online IP infringement is borderless. ‘While there is a degree of harmonization of the laws and regulations governing IP rights and their enforcement, these are not unified. Varying laws and practices in different jurisdictions make it difficult to navigate the legal landscape, fuelling legal uncertainty about outcomes.’[4] In any jurisdiction, the internet itself makes it harder to track down infringers effectively and stop them, but it is particularly difficult in SEA. The effectiveness of IP enforcement in the region is still a major concern. As a result, online trading is quickly becoming more and more attractive for IP infringers as they are less likely to be caught in SEA. In addition, although laws and regulations in South-East Asian countries generally prohibit the sale of counterfeit and pirated products, they do not specifically deter the sale of these products online. There is a lack of effective laws against online IP infringement, and the authorities have little experience in dealing with it.

The majority of the online trade in counterfeit products and pirated goods is at the retail scale, it means there is a huge number of infringers that companies must monitor in order to combat them. The internet makes it easy for anyone to set up a new online business. This means that even if  the culprits agree to stop their infringing actions after receiving a warning from the IP owner, e-commerce operators or enforcement authorities, it is still possible that they will quickly set up a new shop to continue with the illegal selling.

However, taking no action is inadvisable for companies seeking to safeguard their business in SEA. If your products have been infringed and sold in various places, a ‘no actions’ strategy will have a negative impact on your global business and jeoparadise your reputation.

To protect IP effectively, a company should build up a proactive and multi-faceted strategy to act swiftly and effectively against online infringers. The following options can be considered.

  • Actively monitor the online marketplace, and shopping and social media platforms, to identify infringement: Companies can do this by themselves or hire service companies with expertise in the field. In addition, today there are many advanced technological tools for searching and detecting sources of IP violation.
  • Conduct an investigation and gather facts: Don’t make a groundless claim, it will cost you both time and money. Once you have found a suspected infringement on the internet, the first step is to collect evidence on the infringer, e.g. basic information (name, address, other contact details, the scale of their business and the origin of their products).
  • Take-down Notices and Warning Letters: The majority of online infringers in SEA are small businesses, therefore sending a Warning Letter to online infringers has often proved to be a time- and cost-effective option. Also, submitting a Take-down Notice and Infringement Complaint to the e-commerce platform and social media operators can be another effective approach. Read and understand the IP policy against online infringment of each platform so that you can provide the appropriate information and documents as required to ensure the take-down is fast and effective.
  • Work with local enforcement agencies: Companies should be well prepared, with at least a basic understanding of the enforcement agencies available in each country in SEA and of how companies are eligible to use the enforcement options in the jurisdiction. It is worth noting that to enforce your rights in SEA, you are usually required to register your IP with the IP office of the country where you seek enforcement. Raid actions to seize infringing products, filing a claim to a court, or using customs to block counterfeit and pirated goods are also enforcement options that companies may consider in specific cases.
  • Seek advice from local experts: There are still many differences between IP laws and practices between the EU and SEA, and even within SEA inconsistencies abound. As many of the counterfeit and pirated products for sale are advertised in local languages or posted on local websites, monitoring by detection software or searching tools (usually in Roman characters) doesn’t work effectively. Therefore, companies should always seek advice from local experts who are familiar with local cases of infringement and who have close relations with enforcement bodies such as the courts, police and customs authorities.

SEA is a promising destination to expand your business in. However, there are still major concerns there relating to IP protection, especially in the digital era. European companies should be aware of the risks and prepare their IP strategy before going abroad. A proactive and well-prepared IP protection programme will secure sustainable business growth in SEA.

By Xuan Nguyen – Project Officer, South-East Asia IPR SME Helpdek

[1] e-Conomy SEA 2019: https://www.bain.com/insights/e-conomy-sea-2019/

[2] ‘The Economic Impacts of Counterfeiting and Piracy’ by Frontier Economics: https://www.inta.org/Communications/Documents/2017_Frontier_Report.pdf

[3] Industries exposed to online counterfeiting: https://www.group-ib.com/brandprotection/anticounterfeiting.html

[4] ‘IP Infringement Online: the dark side of digital’: https://www.wipo.int/wipo_magazine/en/2011/02/article_0007.html

 

Bad Faith Trade Mark Registrations in China

Prior trade mark registrations, also called ‘bad-faith registrations’, are a significant problem that many European companies encounter in China. This process commonly involves a Chinese company first registering the trade mark of a foreign company in China with the express intention of selling it back to the foreign company at an inflated price. Finding out that a Chinese company has registered a bad faith trade mark is one of the biggest complaints of European Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) trying to enter the Chinese market. These prior registrations can limit the foreign company’s freedom to operate by restricting its ability to enter the China market or even to source goods from China.

As an example, a Scandinavian SME used a Chinese factory to make its goods for export. The Chinese supplier registered the Scandinavian company’s trade mark in China and engaged China’s customs to intercept export goods bearing the trade mark, thereby disrupting the Scandinavian company’s business. Continue reading “Bad Faith Trade Mark Registrations in China” »

South-East Asia IPR Basics Series: Using Customs Controls In Vietnam

dreamstime_m_24720610Our final article for the Vietnam series covers how SMEs can work with Vietnamese authorities to use customs controls as an effective tool against infringement.

Customs can provide a last line of defence against infringement, stopping existing infringing goods from leaving or entering a country. This brief article gives an overview of Vietnam’s existing customs controls and gives some advice on how SMEs can work with the authorities to prevent the spread of infringing goods.

If, after reading you still feel all at sea, just get in touch with our experts and they’ll put you back on track!

Continue reading “South-East Asia IPR Basics Series: Using Customs Controls In Vietnam” »

Marking Your Territory: Choosing a Trade Mark in China

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BRAND on price labelsSeveral weeks ago, New Balance Trading (China) – the Chinese affiliate of US sports footwear brand, New Balance – was ordered by a Guangzhou court to pay RMB98 million in compensation (equivalent to approximately EUR14.3 million), and to publicly apologise to Chinese businessman, Mr Yuelin Zhou, for trademark infringement. The trade mark in question was “新百伦”, or “Xin Bai Lun”, a Chinese transliteration of “New Balance”. This case serves as a sharp reminder of how vital it is for foreign brands to register a Chinese trade mark in China, and how cutting corners may result in high financial penalties later down the line. Continue reading “Marking Your Territory: Choosing a Trade Mark in China” »