Categories: SJA Exclusives, Retail

EXCLUSIVE: Exploring the frontiers of anti-counterfeit initiatives

Retail security - anti-counterfeiting

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Thais Barbosa, Josefina Borghi and Camila Sarmiento from Mercado Libre take a deep dive in the organization’s Brand Protection Anti-Counterfeiting Initiative – MACA.

Protecting IP

Currently, brand owners, marketplaces and other relevant stakeholders within the intellectual property (IP) community are finding new ways to face the challenges posed by the ever-evolving trends of the online commercialization of counterfeit and pirated goods.

These illicit practices not only impact the commercial interests of rights holders but also the security and safety of thousands of users engaging with e-commerce platforms.

From its inception, Mercado Libre has consistently demonstrated an unwavering commitment to safeguarding IP rights and creating awareness around its importance.

This commitment manifests in the implementation of rigorous policies and proactive strategies, cultivating an environment that is not only secure but also trustworthy for users and numerous companies, leveraging Mercado Libre’s services to connect with customers in the region.

Among the multiple solutions implemented by the company is its notice and takedown mechanism, the Brand Protection Program (BPP), boasting participation from over 10,500 rights holders and more than 63,000 registered rights.

Furthermore, collaborative agreements with both public and private sectors underscore Mercado Libre’s commitment to a holistic approach.

The incorporation of cutting-edge AI for the automatic detection of IP infringing trends is emblematic of the company’s dedication to staying at the forefront of technological advancements.

The most recent milestone in Mercado Libre’s continuous fight against counterfeits and piracy is the establishment of an Anti-Counterfeiting Alliance.

This new initiative was the result of Mercado Libre’s progress to engage a more proactive and collaborative approach.

The company launched a regional partnership initiative called the Mercado Libre Anti-Counterfeiting Alliance (MACA, as per its acronym in Spanish), focused on main two activities: proactive removals of suspicious offers and online-to-offline cases.

The latter involves a joint commitment with various brand owners to dismantle criminal structures responsible for the proliferation of counterfeit and pirated products both in the offline and online environment.

This comprehensive initiative encompasses diverse projects, strategically designed to convey a resolute message of zero tolerance to offenders across the 18 countries where Mercado Libre operates.

A pivotal part of this initiative involves intelligence-driven online-to-offline investigations and consequent court actions against users involved in counterfeit products.

Multiple specialized teams in the fields of IP, fraud intelligence and criminal law work together with rights holders to jointly dismantle repeat offenders online.

This work begins by addressing the challenges of prosecuting such crimes in Latin American countries and the evolving trends of increasingly ingenious counterfeiters.

To date, 17 global brand owners with regional portfolios have joined the initiative and 20 criminal complaints have been initiated in various Latin American countries, including Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Mexico.

These cases involve counterfeit electronics, alcoholic beverages, apparel and signal piracy, among others.

While each industry and country present unique characteristics, globally recognized best practice guidelines (such as those developed by the International Trademark Association) have been meticulously developed by national and international organizations, both from the public and private sector and serve as inspiration for Mercado Libre’s initiatives.

These guidelines offer actionable steps for IP rights holders, e-commerce platforms and authorities to collaboratively combat counterfeiting and online piracy.

Serving as invaluable tools, these guidelines aim to establish consistent criteria applicable to diverse scenarios, irrespective of the existence or maturity of regulatory frameworks.

They facilitate swift implementation across different sectors, maintaining the requisite flexibility to adapt to various technological and business growth dynamics.

The foundational element of these guidelines is the establishment of trust among stakeholders, an essential precursor to achieving a common mission.

Collaborative engagement sets the stage for a shared commitment to combat illicit online trade.

The spirit of collaboration, as opposed to confrontation, forms the bedrock upon which trust is built.

Within the Mercado Libre Anti Counterfeiting Alliance, this spirit is palpable.

From the perspective of the engagement with the rights holders participating in the initiative, the starting point is understanding their pains by analyzing the listings reported through the BPP, but also from the direct insight received from the partners of the initiative on counterfeiting networks, modus operandi and illicit activity trends.

Jointly, a strategic data-based plan is developed, addressing products, trends and territories where investigative actions become necessary.

The overarching objective? To provide a secure and trustworthy ecosystem for users and unravel the complex counterfeiting and piracy networks behind the infringing ones.

Forging investigative and collaborative networks

The innovative strategy adopted by MACA brings together all those stakeholders combatting the selling of counterfeit and pirated goods to the same table.

By recognizing the complexities of the fight against counterfeit goods, MACA bolsters a tripartite collaboration between brand owners, e-commerce platforms and authorities working together in sync.

The importance of this alliance lies in the ability to unite resources, knowledge and efforts to effectively combat this problem that affects not only the economy but also the safety and security of the consumers.

In that sense, environmental, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives are vital to combat the trade of counterfeit goods that may have a direct impact on health and safety, translated into crimes against public health.

Collaboration is essential for the exchange of information and expertise.

The tripartite taskforce between law enforcement, brand owners and e-commerce platforms have valuable data on criminal networks, their modus-operandi, hot-spots for concentrated counterfeit goods as well as fraud trends.

This is highly important especially when exchanging information on specific counterfeiting cases.

The prior identification of a trusted network between private and public sector before initiating legal actions is key to determine the success of a case.

As each counterfeit case may be combined with other different types of crime, the election of a specialized authority division is regarded as the first step when forging collaborative and investigative networks.

Understanding the advantages of public-private partnerships, Mercado Libre has signed – to date – 63 collaboration agreements with public authorities and the private sector including law enforcement, ministerial and government agencies in Latin America.

In addition, it cooperates internationally with organizations such as INTERPOL and the United Nations.

MACA’s best practices show that the approaches to information sharing may be conducted in two ways.

Brand owners and e-commerce platforms may file joint criminal complaints and report their findings to these trusted authorities, providing valuable intel to conduct investigations.

Likewise, authorities may share or request information about identified criminal networks, helping platforms and brands strengthen their security measures and protect their intellectual property rights.

By joining forces, the exchanged knowledge and aligned legal strategy allow for a broader and deeper understanding of criminal organizations, helping to identify the source and origin of the crime.

All in all, MACA facilitates the implementation of more effective strategies to tackle the online and offline commercialization of counterfeit and pirated goods.

By working together, the ecosystem becomes safer and more reliable for consumers.

Legal strategies aligned with investigative prowess

The data collection and analysis is followed by the alignment between the parties on the best legal strategy.

Coordinated investigations and decisions with brand owners and their external counsels culminate in referrals or filings of complaints before local authorities, all in strict compliance with local laws.

Mercado Libre, which in different cases is positioned as one of the victims, plays a role in actively contributing in identifying and holding offenders accountable.

In this pioneering project, Mercado Libre seeks to enhance the narrative surrounding criminal activities in the legal context.

Leveraging its victim status, the platform provides robust elements and arguments that bolster complaints, assemble the IP crimes cited by the brand owners and streamline the investigation and conviction process.

This innovative approach, studied on a case-by-case basis per country underscores the platform’s commitment to a more prominent role in the fight against counterfeiting and piracy.

Strengthening safety every day: a call for collaboration

In an era where online counterfeit and pirated products continually evolve, MACA faces the challenge of not only maintaining harmonious collaboration but also navigating a dynamic and sophisticated landscape of criminal activities.

Effective communication and a flexible, dynamic vision are key to combatting these illicit practices.

This initiative underscores the pivotal role collaboration plays in addressing complex challenges such as trademark counterfeiting and piracy.

By adopting innovative measures and integrating ESG principles, Mercado Libre actively reaffirms its commitment to combating piracy, protecting IP rights and ensuring a positive and secure e-commerce experience for consumers.

Aligned with sustainable development goals (SDGs), this investigative journey invites forensic investigators, compliance agents, attorneys and ESG advocates to explore the forefront of anti-counterfeiting efforts, promoting a safer and reliable e-commerce environment.

This article was originally published in the December edition of Security Journal Americas. To read your FREE digital edition, click here.

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