The most well-known Hungarian dog gear and sportswear company started as a family business in 1997, and today they employ almost five hundred people at nine different sites. However, the success is overshadowed by the fact that they have become the most copied Hungarian brand. We talked to the owner of the company, Julius Sebő, about patents and the fight against counterfeiting.
How did the idea become a brand that’s so widely known and copied worldwide?
– The first products (muzzles and leashes) were delivered to Austrian and Hungarian companies and authorities (like police organisations), but by the early 2000’s they also became popular amongst regular dog owners in Western Europe. We established the brand name between 2003 and 2005 and in 2009 we registered the first design and usage patents that intended to protect the technical features of our products. These three patents combined have already given us the ability to act against counterfeit products relatively quickly and effectively. However even when we make a strong effort to protect our product, we still have to contend with copies appearing on the market.
– How long can the above-mentioned options provide security for the original creator of a design?
– All forms of protection other than the brand name have a limited time frame. However, due to the dynamism of the modern era, new technological solutions may rapidly become obsolete, a long time before the maximum available 20 years of “protection” from a patent expires. On the other hand, the specifics of a product design may not become obsolete even after 20 years. In our case, our harnesses have become so well known that everyone on the market identifies the design with our brand. In situations like this, it can be worth considering submitting a three-dimensional trademark that will live as long as the owner is willing to pay the maintenance fee.
– As a copyright owner, what are the most basic things you can do against counterfeiters?
– The main thing that we can do is to get our customers attention on our own website and show them how to identify the original product. Another potential solution is to put a special label on our products that not only guarantees originality, but also provides the buyer with an online registration and information interface. These are simple measures that a distributor or manufacturer must take in order to ensure customer safety, since counterfeit products are generally of much worse quality. We have been contacted numerous times with complaints about products that were thought to be ours, with the customers believing that we were responsible for the problem. Although these people do understand that they have been deceived, and that the product was not manufactured by us, the issue still harms the brand.
Authentic documentation of product development is also crucial. If somebody decides to only sell in Hungary and does not want to trade across the border, they can still become a victim of counterfeiters. If the product has good potential, then somebody with bad intentions or a third-party inventor can claim it as their own any time, and in extreme cases they can even attack the unwary developer with legal force. Even though they invented the product, if the details of its appearance or the initial market launch were not documented correctly, even the fundamental rights of the inventors can be denied.
– What sort of everyday tasks come along with the fight against fake products?
– It is important to know and to monitor the market participants, who may be involved in marketing. The main issue is online commerce, where duplicate products appear, and of course there are leading distributors within this sphere. If we do not step up against them, then counterfeit products leaking into the online market will eventually appear on physical markets too, where they will find wholesale partners. Within a couple of years these wholesalers will get their fake products from European warehouses onto the shelves of retail and wholesale chains. If right-holding companies maintain contact with online market players on the right forums, then it is possible to report any infringements to the admins of the site. However, if the admin page does not accept the arguments, you will have to go to court to enforce your rights. The challenge is that this solution cannot keep up with the volatility and speed of the online market. Company names and links to a given website can change in a matter of moments and the entity offering the product often cannot be identified. In such cases it is also worth filing a complaint with the customs authorities, attaching all the carefully collected material about the infringers. If we are able to act promptly and consistently, the damage suffered will decrease, as copiers will only be able to reach consumers through more sophisticated tactics. One part of this may be that they may try to offer their counterfeit products by hiding them amongst different products. For example, in our case, they tried selling the dog harness amongst human clothing items, in the hope of avoiding customs. If a designer is consistent about stepping up against brand name violation, then the copying companies will start playing around by changing certain letters and patterns, as well as testing the operators of the largest web interfaces about how they should judge the legitimacy of their actions. Keeping an eye on the online market requires an increasing amount of human resources. We, for example, try to disable hundreds of web interfaces a day, where we have noticed that consumers are being misled by photos, brand names and copies of our products.
– What other damage to counterfeiters cause besides the direct loss of sales?
– By partially stealing product descriptions and then often mixing these with invented information, counterfeiters dilute our product development and impact adversely on our brand awareness. On one hand they take advantage of the brand’s reputation and on the other hand they mix in information that is misleading to consumers. As well as this, we are constantly forced to explain ourselves to our customers because of their bad quality products that may be confused with our own genuine products. It’s bad enough when disappointed buyers come to us asking if they’ve bought an original product, but it’s worse again when the fake product breaks or causes an accident and we may be forced to protect ourselves with serious legal interventions. Adding all of this together, , the damage caused by the distribution of duplicate products hundreds of millions.
– What sort of help can investigative authorities provide in dealing with counterfeit products?
– As a holder of rights, it is important that we inform the investigating authorities about our problems, backed up with information about specific cases. This way, we can cooperate with the authorities on an international level and testify in counterfeiting cases and seizures. Our belief that companies involved in product counterfeiting are often strongly linked to organised crime has been proven by several studies. This is one of the reasons why we treat the problem so seriously.
– How do you think buyers themselves see counterfeit products?
– Our buyers are people who want the best for their dogs above all else, so our aim is to create a certain self-awareness in them, putting the emphasis not only on outstanding quality for their pets, but also on supporting Hungarian jobs.
Source: Magyar Hírlap