As the holiday shopping season reaches peak fervor and consumers seek out the best deals available on hot products, gift-givers are more at risk of purchasing counterfeit products of all kinds. Recently, news articles have warned of counterfeit Fingerlings – the latest “it” toy – along with fake versions of popular electronics, clothing, personal care products, and many other types of goods. Government bureaus like the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol regularly release holiday bulletins advising of the escalating volume of phony products entering the United States (for example, https://www.ice.gov/news/releases/buyer-beware-counterfeit-goods-and-holiday-shopping-season). Counterfeits are far from harmless. Not only are these counterfeit goods generally inferior to authentic products in both quality and safety, fake products are fraud, theft, and infringements of valuable trademarks and other intellectual property. Sales of counterfeit products can even be criminal.
As a consumer, what can you do to help ensure you’re receiving the genuine article? The most obvious method is to avoid unfamiliar sources and to buy directly from the manufacturer’s website or from an authorized retailer whenever possible. If buying on websites like Amazon and eBay (where products are often actually sold by unrelated third parties), it helps to make sure that the seller of the product is the manufacturer or Amazon itself, not an unknown third party. Often times, third party sellers do not have the ability or desire to properly perform checks on the goods they are selling, and in many cases the third party sellers never actually possess the products – when they receive your order they simply forward the product from a warehouse they have never even seen. While outlets like Amazon and eBay have some anti-counterfeiting policies and procedures, experience has shown that not every fake product will be screened out. Consumers should also check the price of the goods to ensure that it is not abnormally low, and examine the packaging and presentation of the product as depicted on the website to help determine whether the product might be fake or foreign-labeled goods. Compare the look of the product offered with the same product on the manufacturer’s website – if it’s different, that’s a red flag. Consumers should also not hesitate to contact the manufacturer if they suspect that they have received counterfeit or foreign-labeled goods – in addition to being the primary victims, consumers are often the first line of defense in the fight against counterfeiting.
As a manufacturer or trademark owner, what can you do when you discover your products being sold in an unauthorized channel, with risk of counterfeiting? Conkle, Kremer & Engel has extensive experience helping manufacturers and distributors to investigate and, when necessary, litigate counterfeit and other trademark- and intellectual property-infringement claims. CK&E attorneys are well-versed in the careful initial steps that should promptly be taken when sales of illicit products are suspected. If the seller is cooperative, litigation can often be avoided. But if the seller is not, that is a strong indicator that the seller has been selling, and will continue to sell, infringing products unless stopped through litigation. Whatever you choose to do, consult experienced counsel and decide on your course of action promptly – unreasonable delays can seriously harm your ability to protect your rights.