The Dangers of Trading Online – Is Your Brand Protected?

12 December 2013

In this digital age many brands have identified the online marketplace as the key growth area for time conscious consumers. Online companies such as ‘Amazon’, ‘Topshop’ and ‘ASOS’ have made their fortunes from online sales to both local and overseas consumers. But the online marketplace also has its dangers. Doing business online has a dark side and if you are not vigilant in protecting your brand presence online.  Complacency may result in your business falling victim to online counterfeiters and unauthorised resellers who take advantage of unassuming consumers.

 

The internet uses a variety of tools and algorithms to connect consumers with fast, relevant information and often this comes at the expense of internet security. One such tool that is used by Google is ‘Google AdWords’. ‘AdWords’ are paid advertisements which appear at the top of each page of your ‘Google Search’. They are algorithm based, and anybody may purchase them. In recent times, counterfeiters have purchased AdWords which link consumers to a website, which ‘piggyback’ on well known brands and which can divert consumers away from your business to buy counterfeit or lower quality. Google has a strict policy on counterfeiters and will remove offending sites and AdWords, however, it requires brands to be vigilant about following online activities and to have the proper legal protections in place.

 

Care should be taken to ensure that you actively monitor and maintain your domain name registrations.  Cybersquatters are (usually) companies who wait for domain names to expire and then register them in their own name, usually within hours of expiration.  This is done with the intent of diverting your customers away to them in the belief that they are associated with your business.  They also bank on you to offering to buy back your domain name from them at an inflated price.

 

Gucci is one such brand which benefitted from being alert and having the proper legal safeguards in place. On 17 October 2013, Gucci were awarded $144.2 million in damages from 155 online sellers for counterfeiting and cybersquatting. The online sellers copied parts of the Gucci campaign including trademarks, advertisements, product images, and descriptions and sold counterfeit Gucci branded goods online or linked to counterfeit websites. Many of those online sellers used variations of the Gucci domain name and internet sites were registered in Britain, Canada, United States, France, Italy and Japan.

 

This case serves as a good reminder to all businesses to implement and monitor brand security practises and to determine whether your brand is sufficiently protected.

 

Here are our 5 key tips to protect your brand online:

 

  1. Trademark your business name, logo and key catchphrases. Remember to trademark in every Country which you do business. In order to request Google to take down an offending site or AdWord, Google require evidence that you are in fact the brand owner. Having a registered trademark is the easiest way to prove your legal rights to your brand.

  2. Register all relevant domain names and variations of those domain names in relation to your brand and business and ensure registrations are maintained and renewed before they expire. Simply buying the .com version and leaving the .com.au version or .net version is unwise. Also, secure the country variations in which you do business (i.e. .com.it for Italy, .com.fr for France and so on).

  3. Complete regular ‘Google’ or ‘Yahoo’ searches of your brand and monitor the results. 

  4. Subscribe to Google alerts for your brand and domain name. Google Alerts are part of a free service that is offered by Google which will notify you when someone writes about you on the internet or who is linking to your website.

  5. Take Action. Google has a myriad of policies which deal with counterfeiting and cybersquatting and navigating those policies is often quite difficult. Engage a solicitor with the appropriate expertise to help you establish and implement your domain name and intellectual property management plan.  Seek advice as soon as you become aware of a brand management or defamation issue.  A well drafted letter to Google can be effective in having offending material or misrepresentations removed from the internet and can spare you from engaging in costly litigation to protect your brand.

    Fotini Kypraios

    This article was published in Business Spectator Magazine on 24 October 2013 : http://www.businessspectator.com.au/article/2013/10/24/family-business/risky-business-five-safeguards-against-cyber-fraud