(Note: This is post is part of our ongoing “IP Protection for Brands” series. You can find the other blogs in this series here.)
Many manufacturers believe that protecting their brand’s intellectual property consists of simply trademarking their product names and taglines, and filing for any relevant patents. The unfortunate reality, though, is that you can’t just send your brand out into the marketplace and expect those little legal symbols to protect your company’s IP.
As I discussed in a previous post in this series, your brand is always at risk, particularly online, from a number of sources. Trouble for your brand could come from well-meaning but incompetent retail partners, rogue sellers who dump your products on the market at well below the prices you specify in your reseller pricing policy, and even counterfeiters who produce low-quality knockoffs and sell them without any regard for how they will harm your brand.
Which means taking steps to assert your company’s legal rights to your intellectual property is certainly necessary, but it’s not the end of your obligation to protect your brand’s IP—it’s just the beginning.
So here’s the question: Is protecting your brand’s intellectual property something your team can manage entirely in-house—or would doing so be too complex and time-consuming to take on without outside expert help?
4 Things You’ll Need to Do—24/7—to Protect Your Brand’s IP In-House
If you’re thinking about giving your own staff the responsibility for making sure no one is infringing on your brand’s intellectual property rights, consider just some of the steps they’ll need to take. As I’m sure you’ll see, this task is simply too large for any in-house department—no matter how well-meaning or well-staffed—to handle manually and without some level of brand protection automation.
1. You’ll need to closely monitor your wholesale distributors’ activity.
Often the root cause of brand IP violations starts not with a rogue retailer but upstream in the supply-chain process—with the brand’s wholesale distributors.
Let’s say a manufacturer sells through a wholesale channel rather than (or in addition to) selling directly to its retail partners. Now assume one of those wholesalers buys the company’s inventory and then sells it to a retailer that has no official relationship with the brand. This could be simple neglect (the wholesaler isn’t vetting the retail buyers asking for inventory) or intentional (a wholesaler wants to dump its inventory and is willing to sell to a business it knows will violate the manufacturer’s guidelines).
If your company isn’t keeping an eye on what’s happening to your products after you sell them to your wholesale distributors, then you’re much more likely to find shady retailers getting their hands on your inventory and using your brand’s IP to sell it—often in ways that undermine your brand and your company’s reputation.
One strategy here is to implement an Authorized Dealer Program, which will help you restrict your wholesale partners’ product sales to only those retailers (or “dealers”) you’ve pre-approved to buy from them. That will likely reduce the instances of your brand’s IP being used by retailers you haven’t given permission to use it.
Of course, even with such a program in place, your products can still fall into the hands of retailers who will misuse your intellectual property to sell them. Which means you’ll still need to monitor the Internet at all times for IP violations.
2. You’ll need to monitor the Internet 24/7 for rogue retailers advertising your products without your permission, and for counterfeiters selling knockoffs using your brand’s IP.
If you want to take responsibility for overseeing your company’s brand IP protection internally, your team will also need to keep a watchful eye—24/7—on how your products and brand are being representing all across the Internet. This will include continuously scanning eCommerce storefronts, online marketplaces, and all ads and websites where your products appear and where your brand’s IP is being used to sell them.
Your team’s goal here will be twofold.
First, they’ll be looking to catch rogue retailers who don’t have any relationship with your company and who are selling your products without your permission. Because you haven’t authorized these retailers to represent your brand, they’re likely to be illegally using your intellectual property—your product names, your sales copy, your product-related imagery, etc. Worse, these shady sellers might even modify your product details or embellish on your copy to make sales—not caring at all that doing so will result in angry customers, lousy online reviews for your products, and damage to your business’s reputation.
A second thing your team will be looking for here will be counterfeit versions of your products for sale—again, probably using your own sales copy and other intellectual property to sell those knockoffs.
Of course, all of this brings up important question: If they’re going to check all of these sites, how frequently will you want your team doing so? Once a day for each site? Several times each day? How about weekends and holidays, when your team isn’t working?
Keep in mind that a retailer can change the details of one of your product listings anytime, often within seconds.
This is one of many reasons that it just isn’t feasible to expect your staff will be able to monitor every one of your legitimate partners’ web pages and online advertisements, and to do so frequently enough that they catch an IP violation.
To do this effectively, you’ll need an automated solution monitoring your products’ presence 24/7.
3. You’ll need to monitor the entire Internet at all times for negative customer reviews or ratings for your product or your brand.
A related but separate task you will want to assign to your in-house team if you want them managing your brand’s IP is to watch scan the Internet constantly for online customer reviews and ratings of your products or your company—particularly negative reviews.
Negative product reviews are terrible for business and your brand, obviously, but they can also be often an early-warning sign that something is going wrong with your supply chain. If a rogue retailer uses underhanded means to buy your products from a wholesaler or even directly from your internal sales team, they will likely also use dishonest means to sell those products to end-user customers. They might pretend to offer your company’s warranty, for example, or to offer customer support—when in reality a customer asking for these services won’t find either.
And lousy customer experiences like that often lead to lousy product reviews online.
So among the many other responsibilities your team will have for protecting your brand’s IP, they’ll need to be watching the Internet at all times for bad reviews.
Which is yet another reason you’d be better off leveraging the power of automation here, and deploying the right app to monitor your online reviews and alert you whenever there’s a bad one.
4. You’ll need to be ready to take appropriate action immediately when your team spots any of these violations, anywhere on the Internet.
Finally, consider that each of the responsibilities I’ve outlined above involve simply monitoring the web for the many different types of ongoing threats to your brand. Monitoring is just a first step. In each case, your team will also need to be trained (and have the right tools) to immediately take the appropriate action to address the problem. This could involve:
- Issuing a warning to a rogue retailer and threatening legal action
- Contacting a legitimate wholesale partner about a batch of your inventory that ended up on a rogue retailer’s
- Contacting an online marketplace (e.g., Amazon) for help removing a product listing that is illegally using your brand’s IP
- Issuing a warning to a legitimate retail partner that has (either mistakenly or intentionally) misused your company’s IP to advertise your products
Handling any of these above scenarios (and the many others that might come up) have both business and legal implications, and mishandling them carries significant risks.
This is why, in addition to everything else you’re going to be tasking your in-house brand IP protection team with doing, you’ll also need to make sure they are prepared to deal quickly and correctly with these situations and that you’ve given them the tools (the reseller policies, the escalating warning messages, etc.) to take the appropriate action to safeguard your brand.
If you’d like help automating your brand IP protection processes, contact us.