Counterfeiting can be a significant problem for brand owners and legitimate rights holders. It directly undermines legitimate business through lost sales revenue and has the potential to strain relationships between IP owners and their licensees. The sale of counterfeit products can also damage the value of the associated brand in various ways. This could be where the counterfeit products are defective or of poor quality compared with the genuine article; or where unauthorised trade mark uses disrupt brand owners from effectively controlling the use of their brands, resulting in brands being presented to the market unfavourably or in a way that is inconsistent with the brand owner's interests.

Even consumers seeking to do the right thing by purchasing legitimate products can be confused about whether a particular product is authentic or being traded through an authorised channel. This is especially the case in the context of online retail.

To help with combatting counterfeiters, IP Australia has begun trialling its "Smart Trade Mark" initiative with industry and government partners. The expectation is that the Smart Trade Mark will become an effective tool to identify and authenticate genuine products and sales channels, thereby resolving the potential for consumer confusion and allowing consumers to be confident that they are purchasing the genuine article from a legitimate source.

What is Smart Trade Mark?

The Smart Trade Mark is a digital platform that uses blockchain technology to enable businesses to verify that certain products, sales channels and trade mark uses are legitimate by linking them to their registered trade marks as published on the Australian Trade Marks Register.

How Smart Trade Mark works

The platform currently being trialled involves 3 main steps:

  1. The trade mark owner submits certain product information and/or domain addresses to IP Australia;
  2. IP Australia stores the details and authenticates the trade mark by linking the details provided by the trade mark owner to the Australian Trade Marks Register; and
  3. A Trust Badge is displayed on the relevant websites notified to IP Australia. Consumers can verify the Smart Trade Mark digitally by referring to the Trust Badge, which links through to details of the registered trade mark and information confirming that the website is verified.

NRL

The NRL (Australian Rugby League Commission Limited) is one of the key industry partners trialling the Smart Trade Mark. Shaun McMartin, NRL's General Manager Consumer Business, sees the Smart Trade Mark as a potential "game changer" for similar businesses, stating that:

"NRL members and fans are the lifeblood of our sport who want to buy the genuine article when supporting their club – the Trust Badge helps NRL fans identify authentic and licensed products online"

The Smart Trade Mark is currently used by the NRL at www.nrlshop.com and by one of its authorised distributors at www.savvysupporter.com.au to indicate that both are legitimate sources of authentic NRL merchandise.

Shelston IP is proud to act for NRL in connection with protection and maintenance of its trade mark portfolio. Along with the NRL, we are excited by the prospects of Smart Trade Mark becoming an effective tool in the fight against counterfeiters.

Smart Trade Mark will be made available to all Australian trade mark owners if the trials are successful. IP Australia has not provided a specific timeframe for completion of the trials. However, trade mark owners can register their interest and subscribe to receive further updates at – https://smarttrademark.search.ipaustralia.gov.au/.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

Shelston IP ranked one of Australia's leading Intellectual Property firms in 2015.