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Amazon Blames Brands for Refusing to Use Anti-Counterfeiting Tools

Amazon has responded to charges by the American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA) accusing the company of facilitating counterfeiting on a number of its international sites.

On Oct. 3, AAFA CEO Rick Helfenbein wrote to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), requesting that the agency include Amazon’s British, Canadian, German, French and Indian e-commerce sites in its Notorious Markets report. The running list includes 130 international selling venues and eight online retailers or marketplaces that the agency has fingered as untrustworthy.

On Tuesday, Brian Huseman, Amazon’s vice president of public policy, wrote his own letter to USTR, underscoring the company’s “heavy” investments in anti-counterfeit measures that he characterized as going “well beyond [Amazon’s] legal obligations” to proactively combat fakes.

“We know that customer trust is hard to win and easy to lose, and we view counterfeiting as an existential threat: if customers do not trust what they purchase through Amazon’s stores, they can and will shop elsewhere,” Huseman wrote, adding that the company invested more than $400 million in hiring 5,000-plus employees to police fraudulent and abusive behaviors—including counterfeiting—across its online channels and stores.

Huseman went on to expound upon the cache of “preventative, technology-driven tools” that the company is currently using to monitor the 5 billion changes that are submitted to its online catalog of products daily.

Amazon’s most powerful fraud-fighting tool is its Brand Registry service, which helps brands protect their intellectual property by allowing them to register their trademarked products with the site. Through that process, brands gain access to automated protection tools that use machine learning to detect and even predict IP infringement. Since the program’s implementation, 200,000 worldwide brands have signed up, leading to 99 percent fewer suspected infringements than before its launch, Huseman said.

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The company also employs a serialization service called Transparency, wherein codes are physically adhered to each individual product. Amazon, other retailers, law enforcement, and customers can verify the authenticity of products by scanning these codes in the Amazon app.

Newly launched Project Zero combines the power of Brand Registry and Transparency, and for the first time allows IP rights-owners to directly remove suspected counterfeits from Amazon stores. And another new program, IP Accelerator, offers “innovative protection” to emerging brands that are working to obtain trademarks, while simultaneously connecting businesses with Amazon’s “curated network of trusted IP law firms that provide high quality trademark registration services.”

Huseman also cited Amazon’s efforts to work with AAFA member brands on refining and implementing these tools, but indicated that a number of them have shown resistance. Some brands have “refused” to use the tools, he said, despite their demonstrated effectiveness for AAFA members that have used them.

With regard to the inclusion of Amazon’s India store on the Notorious Markets List, Huseman claimed that not a single AAFA member has filed notice of suspected counterfeiting for Amazon’s India store over the past six months.

“Amazon solicits constructive feedback from brands and associations as to how it can continue to improve those tools, make the process easier for brands, and more effectively fight counterfeiters,” Huseman said.

“However, when brands refuse to use the tools that Amazon makes available to them, offer only anonymous criticism that is directly refuted by available data, or conflate concerns about counterfeits with questions like the ‘unauthorized’ distribution of authentic products, the shared goal of combating counterfeiting is undermined rather than enhanced,” he added.

Huseman concluded his correspondence to USTR by asserting that AAFA’s submission naming the five international Amazon stores did not support inclusion on the Notorious Markets List.

“The fight against counterfeits is far from over and Amazon will not stop investing in the development of effective tools and solutions until there are zero counterfeits in its stores,” he said.