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March, 2018

WeChat says it is cracking down on counterfeits

Original article: Qianlong

Tencent's ubiquitous messaging app WeChat says that it is stepping up efforts to curb counterfeiting on its platforms. WeChat is making those changes in response to a surge in fake goods sales through private accounts, which are subject to minimal scrutiny. In a statement, Brent Irvin, Vice President and General Counsel of Tencent, said that WeChat takes trademark infringement seriously. WeChat is "committed to improving its efficiency at processing complaints, and providing brand owners with comprehensive and multi-dimensional brand protection measures," he added. 

Analysis:

For years, Alibaba was in the cross-hairs of brand owners and brand-protection experts. Its platforms were the main conduit for online sales of fake goods in China. To some degree, they still are - at least by the official data we have. But Alibaba has taken steps to address the problem, which albeit insufficient, do signal recognition of the situation's gravity. 


WeChat hasn't given nearly as much attention to counterfeiting. The anonymity of private accounts makes it hard to track trademark-infringement activity on the messaging app. Anyone can peruse Taobao and discover suspicious listings. Just open the app or go to the website. But private WeChat accounts can only be seen by people who are on a user's contact list. To date, they don't require using one's real identity to register. It is among private accounts where most counterfeit sales are taking place, not high-profile public accounts. 


Dean Arnold, managing director of O2O Brand Protection, follows counterfeiting activity on WeChat closely. In an interview with TechInAsia last June, he said: “To be a counterfeiter [on WeChat] and get away with it, you just need to stick to the rules. You would never do anything outside of WeChat, for example. You would never arrange any meetings, even if people say they’re going to buy a thousand bags from you – don’t get greedy.”


As Beijing steps up scrutiny of IP violations, WeChat will feel increasing pressure to curb sales of pirated goods on its platforms. With that in mind, we can see why the company highlighted its anti-counterfeiting efforts in its annual report on brand protection, released last week. In the report, WeChat emphasizes it "took measures" against 72,000 accounts involved in trademark-infringement activity in 2017. 


Some of the numbers sound surprisingly high. For instance, among 126,013 valid infringement clues, WeChat executed "crackdown actions" with an accuracy rate of more than 99.9%, the report says. Further, WeChat highlights stiffer punishment for counterfeits on its platforms. The company says that it has removed more than 22,300 infringing links and banned 976 mini-apps involved in infringement activity. 


In total, WeChat says that roughly 180 companies from China, Europe, the US and Japan have registered about 400 trademarks on its Brand Protection Platform. 


IP lawyer James Luo told TechInAsia that Tencent has a flagging system that allows users to flag posts that appear suspicious. But thus far, the internet giant has not addressed the flagged listings swiftly. It is more likely to expeditiously shut down posts that touch upon politically sensitive issues, Luo said. 

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