Business Law & Compliance

SnapDragon founder Rachel Jones on fighting fakes online

8 min read

08 August 2018

Special projects journalist

 SMEs who overlook the importance of their intellectual property  can put their products at risk of counterfeiting. Here’s how to get ahead of the copycats and protect your brand online.

SnapDragon is a business dedicated to fighting fakes online; its Swoop software monitors the world’s busiest online marketplaces for copycat and counterfeit goods. These products can then be removed from sale, protecting the original brand, its reputation, revenues and, importantly, its customers.

Recently, SnapDragon was recognised by Real Business and breatheHR as one of the UK’s top 25 Culture Leaders – you can find out more about the process and the other winners here.

As part of this process, we caught up with founder Rachel Jones to hear more about her mission to track copycats online. Here’s what she had to say:

What do you want SnapDragon’s legacy to be?

I want the business to significantly reduce the number of counterfeits sold around the world. Counterfeits generate nearly half a trillion dollars’ worth of sales a year around the world, and in the UK about 5% of goods publicly traded are fake. I’d really like to bring that down protecting customers and brands by identifying links online to fake products and taking them down.

There’s a lot of illegal trade involved in counterfeiting. I think one of the things about counterfeiting is that the average consumer on the high street doesn’t necessarily know this though. So if you buy a fake bag you might think, “Oh, it doesn’t really matter, I can’t afford a real designer bag I’ll pay £20 for a fake one.” Actually, it is well proven that the money made by counterfeiters often funds prostitution, people smuggling, drug rings and worse.

Where in the world do you operate?

Everywhere! We monitor marketplaces all round the world and that’s one of the reasons we have an international team speaking many languages – because although many of the marketplaces will accept take down requests in English, lots of them don’t, and our clients are all over the world.

Where do you want to see your industry, and your business, in five years’ time?

I want to see the brand protection industry as a respected industry, one which people are not afraid to say that they’re working with. I would like brands to be more open about the fact they have had problems, and I hope in five years’ time that the problems are less than they are now.

I would like there to be more assistance or more funding for people who are actually on the ground dealing with these kinds of issues. Customs work very hard, for example, in terms of inspecting containers when they come in to various ports, however, in fact, only 2% of all containers get inspected and it would be lovely if they had more resources so they could inspect more containers.

It can be cheap to establish IP, but what happens if someone infringes on it? What is the cost of fighting for your IP?

Well this is a really good point…how long is a piece of string? If you want to register a trademark for example, it can be as little as a couple of hundred pounds for the UK. But actually, nowadays, if you have a product and you’ve registered a trademark and you put your product online, you’d really want the trademark registered not just in the UK but particularly in China because that’s where, not all, but a lot of fakes are coming from.

Online links are often easy to take down, people can do it themselves (if they can prove ownership of the original intellectual property and speak the right language). When we identify infringing links on the marketplaces, we report them for removal instantly – and, in turn, they are often removed almost instantly, so it’s a quick win for everyone (except the counterfeiters!). If you want to go for litigation it can get quite expensive. There is an Intellectual Property Enterprise Court in the UK though, for claims up to £10,000, which has had great success.

What would you tell your younger self?

I would say, if you invest in a product and take it to market – make sure you protect the IP, then license it to a firm with experience of your target space. Manufacturing and launching a product, as well as dealing with safety testing, finance, distribution, logistics, import, export, VAT etc can be very challenging. So, my advice on manufacturing would be to protect your IP, then get somebody to do the work for you that’s got a bigger and more established presence than you could possibly hope to establish in a short space of time (and often with limited funding).

What are your growth plans for SnapDragon?  

We want to scale up the use of our Swoop software, which is available for any brand to use. The whole point of our Swoop software is to deliver an affordable, accessible monitoring service to any business of any size, and that’s now ready and available for sign ups!

It was really developed for SMEs because the SME market is the one which is a bit more ostrich-like about fakes and copies…but of course it can be used by bigger businesses as well.

If you are interested in protecting your designs, take a look at Anti Copying in Design (ACID), the UK’s leading design and IP campaigning organisation.

 Quick tips from SnapDragon to protect your brand online

1. Register your trademarks in as many territories as possible, and certainly in China.

2. Register products and trademarks with the EUIPO Enforcement Database and its equivalent elsewhere (it’s free and helps protect your brand at ports of entry).

3. Translate your brand into as many variants as possible, and search regularly for these as widely as possible. Report infringing links immediately for removal.

4. If you find a fake … don’t panic. Buy a sample and get to know it well so you can tell the difference and alert your customers too (although be careful not to publicise every difference!).

5. Don’t get too distracted by copies. Your value is in your brand – don’t lose sight of what you have achieved and deliver already.