King’s Award-winning SnapDragon Monitoring founder explains how to protect your products from counterfeits

Fri 31 May 2024
Posted by: Phil Adnett
Features
Rachel Jones

SnapDragon Monitoring, a newly-minted member of the Institute of Export & International Trade (IOE&IT), recently won a prestigious King’s Award in the International Trade category.

For May’s Member Monthly, founder Rachel Jones spoke on her unique personal journey through international trade, and explained how her company helps traders to protect themselves from the scourge of counterfeiters, giving out key tips on working with intellectual property (IP) in new markets.

Jones says she was “delighted” that SnapDragon was one of the winners, with the award representing three years’ hard work during the Covid pandemic. The firm also won a Queen’s Award for Innovation in 2020, making the company a double winner of awards from the Royal Family.

Starting out

Jones’ personal business journey began with her previous company, which fell victim to counterfeiters.

“Twenty years ago, I invented a baby product; about ten years into the journey the product  was counterfeited and the bottom fell out of my world.

“I was heartbroken and incensed all in the same moment.”

Just as the product was moving into its 52nd market, Jones got news that a fake version of her goods had been seized at Southampton by Border Control agents.

“I just thought ‘oh my god, someone might get hurt.’”

Within two weeks, she flew out to China to talk to Alibaba directly [having determined Alibaba was the platform from where the fake products had been bought] learning about the ins and outs of online IP protection and stumbling into a new world.

“I suppose I’m an entrepreneur, but I haven’t really  gone about being one in any structured manner. I invented a baby product just because I needed it to make my life easier, and then I inadvertently founded a tech business when the product was counterfeited and I needed to keep my small customers safe.”

Talking about the issue

Ten or so years ago, fakes were really only acknowledged as being an issue for luxury brands. In the baby industry [which is where Jones’ product sat], there was acknowledgement that counterfeits and product theft was an issue, but Jones says that there was a real lack of will to talk openly about it.

“I was saying to people in the industry: ‘Look, you've got fakes. Can we help find them and take them offline for you, using your IP? It's quick and efficient and cheap.’ They eventually said, ‘Yeah, absolutely. Let's give it a go. And it worked’.

She started taking products off websites like Amazon, eBay and Alibaba manually, eventually raising enough funds so that SnapDragon could develop its own unique, proprietary technology that now scans hundreds of e-commerce platforms around the world, social media, ad words and more looking for counterfeits, grey market goods, and other IP infringements.

The system

SnapDragon’s system analyses products, building up a picture of what is genuine, what might be fake and what IP the fakes are infringing (copyright, trademarks, design rights, patents etc)

With the assistance of artificial intelligence (AI), all this is brought into a client’s dashboard, where they can log in and check all of the possible infringements.

Iit only takes the click of a button for the client to authorise the expert  team at SnapDragon to enforce the client’s IP requesting takedowns from the platforms with immediate effect

Tips for traders

The most important thing to remember for firms is to “protect your IP”, says Jones.

When exporting to China in particular, it’s “really, really important” to register trademarks:

“I'm always really keen when clients come on board to understand what their IP portfolios are like.

“If they say ‘we're thinking about exporting to China’ and they don't have a trademark in China then I tell them ‘well, before you go to China, let's get your trademark sorted out first’.”

In the grand scheme of things, registering IP is relatively cheap.

The official filing cost to register a trademark is the UK is  £170 and the Intellectual Property Office has services offering advice for as low as £50 on how to protect your brand.

“The other thing you should do is to Google yourself and the brand with words like ‘cheap’, ‘fake’ and ‘import and export’. Describe it in all the kind of negative ways where you might find cheaper versions of it.

“This can open up some of the bigger sites where you can find some fakes.”

Sometimes, Jones says, with the right IP in place if a fake is found on, say, Amazon, fake products can be removed from sale within “five minutes”, which she says makes a “massive difference to people’s businesses”.

“Just even being able to talk to somebody who says ‘just breathe and tell us what you've got IP-wise’ can be helpful.”

Market

The market for counterfeit goods isn’t just the big-name luxury goods you’d expect.

Alongside the Gucci and Prada bags that are often subject to IP theft, many common items like ball bearings and automotive parts are often sold online on B2B sites.

Goods that raise money from crowdfunding sites often get counterfeited before the product is actually released.

From monitoring Google Ads and Social Media, SnapDragon says it found a trend for service providers being victims of criminals as well.

“Since COVID, there's been a huge spike in the number of professional service firms that have been ripped off.

“Their websites are being duplicated by fraudsters and with payment links within them and also with false invoices going out.”

IOE&IT membership

Despite the negative stories of exporting, Jones still stands by it as a fantastic opportunity for = business

As a service exporter, rather than a goods provider, she found it easier without the normal levels of customs paperwork that comes with shipping a product across international borders.

SnapDragon’s new membership of IOE&IT will hopefully help the company’s journey, Jones says, including the resources on offer, as well as the networking opportunities:

“I'm very interested to learn from the members as much as possible, including what they do.

 “I'm also super keen to help anybody who's got issues with copies or infringements online – in any industry.”