Johannesburg, 31 March 2020 In this day and age, almost anything and everything can be purchased online. With this being the case, it is difficult to ascertain if the product bought is authentic and emanates from the genuine source as counterfeit goods are increasingly prevalent and third-party e-commerce sites are making it easier than ever for counterfeiters to distribute counterfeit products.
COVID-19, also commonly referred to as the Coronavirus, is an infectious disease-causing respiratory illness much like the flu, with symptoms such as a cough, fever and in even more severe cases, difficulty breathing. An estimated 182 countries and territories around the world are currently faced with this pandemic and the World Health Organization (WHO) has subsequently published guidelines in order to curb its rapid spread.
One of the published preventative measures is to frequently wash your hands with soap for a period of 20 seconds or to sanitise using an at least 60% alcohol-based hand sanitiser and to clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces. This has caused many to go into a frenzy purchasing, amongst other things, as many sanitisers, wet wipes and disinfectants that they can lay their hands on. As a result, most retail stores are constantly running low on stock and counterfeiters have taken advantage of this, resulting in counterfeit sub-standard hand sanitisers and disinfectants being sold online at exorbitant prices to unsuspecting desperate consumers. There have also been reports of counterfeit COVID-19 test kits being sold online and recently, a shipment of suspected counterfeit test kits was intercepted at a Chicago airport.
"Reports indicate that 58% of consumers have already bought more online goods than usual and, should the COVID-19 outbreak continue, an estimated 73% of consumers are expected to increase their online shopping," shares Sibongile Dee, attorney in KISCH IP's Counterfeit Department. "This further increases the risk of more counterfeit products being sold on various e-commerce platforms".
Contrary to the popular belief of consumers, the manufacturing and sale of counterfeit goods does not only hurt businesses and Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) holders, and inconvenience customers. "Rather," says Dee, "the main concern is the health and safety risks posed to unsuspecting consumers as these products have usually not gone through the rigorous regulatory review and approval processes that include testing and quality inspections. Also, more often than not, counterfeit products do not contain the ingredients used by the genuine manufacturers and, in fact, can contain substances that are harmful to the consumer".
During this pandemonium it remains crucial for IPR holders, brand owners, and domain name owners to ensure that their online Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement strategies are in place, and that they do, and are seen to be doing, the necessary to deal with possible infringement.
To curb the flow of counterfeit goods requires not only legal and policy changes but smarter enforcement, priorities and strategies, better coordination and information sharing, as well as the commitment of all stakeholders. "Winning the ongoing fight against counterfeiters requires everyone's cooperation – not just manufacturers, IPR holders, and brand owners but e-commerce platforms, search engines and customs agents as well" concludes Dee.