Second Annual SEMA Export Fair: Networking and Top Tips
Registering your trademarks in the United States and China is key to protecting your brand in China. Pictured here, experts at the SEMA Export Fair provided specific steps to take if you find counterfeits of your products on the Chinese mega e-commerce site Alibaba.
For the second summer in a row, more than 100 SEMA members, top international buyers, experienced exporters and providers of overseas services gathered July 25–26 for two days of networking and an exchange of exporting best practices and tips at the SEMA Export Fair, co-sponsored by the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Held at the SEMA Garage, the Export Fair sessions covered topics such as best practices for working with e-commerce sites to remove counterfeit products; navigating the customs process in Saudi Arabia; and promoting your brand online in China in an environment in which Facebook, Twitter and Google are banned.
AJ Dudon, owner of Florida-based All Fit Automotive, came across the country to attend.
“The international market is big business for us,” he said. “We do more internationally than we do domestically, and we’re always trying to stay on the cutting edge of what it takes to export products correctly. Every dollar matters, so if we can save some money by doing it the correct way, it is important to us.”
Dudon also recently traveled with SEMA on two business-development programs to the Middle East and Australia.
SEMA CEO and President Chris Kersting (standing) opened the SEMA Export Fair. SEMA members from 13 states traveled to the SEMA Garage for two days of networking and briefings on best practices and tips for growing your overseas sales.
“One of the main reasons why I come to [the Export Fair], aside from all of the information I’m learning, is reconnecting with all these other great companies that come to the event,” he said. “I’ve formed some excellent relationships. We’re still a young business, and we’re here to learn and improve and hopefully grow.”
Bodyguard Bumpers was another attendee just beginning to focus on selling its brands outside North America.
“Although we ship our product across the United States and Canada right now, we’re looking to export to more international and bigger markets abroad, so we thought this was a good place to learn how to do that,” said Kelli Mallicote, the company’s co-owner and vice president of sales and marketing.
This is the first in a series of articles that will highlight session subjects covered in the Export Fair. We begin the series with a look at best practices to protect your brand from an overseas counterfeiting assault. The session was included in the Export Fair’s agenda in response to a number of calls received from SEMA members seeking assistance upon finding that e-commerce sites—often the Chinese megasite Alibaba—had vendors selling counterfeit versions of their products.
David Gordon, business development manager of SGS North America provided details on how to obtain the required Certificate of Conformity for all products exported into Saudi Arabia.
Earlier this year, the Alibaba group reported that 493 million users access its China marketplaces every month, and those are just the ones on mobile devices. While a potential marketplace for some U.S. manufacturers seeking to sell in China, the site has become a bigger headache for those who find counterfeits of their products online and seek to have the fake products removed from the Chinese megamall.
The early morning session held during the Export Fair featured three uniquely qualified speakers who walked participants through best practices for removing offending products from the megasite. Daniel Dougherty, Alibaba Group’s senior director for global IP enforcement, provided an excellent overview of the Alibaba takedown process. James Eron, partner in Kung Fu Data, has assisted numerous companies in navigating the procedures to remove counterfeit products from the site. And Rachel Salzman, PhD, from the Office of Intellectual Property Rights for the International Trade Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce, provided information on the resources the U.S. government provides to assist companies with the list of upcoming seminars posted at www.stopfakes.gov.
The speakers reviewed the tools available to companies to have the offending products removed as efficiently and quickly as possible. They also offered best practices for keeping the e-commerce sites free from counterfeit products.
Ron Weber, CEO of Trinet Internet Solutions Inc., provided a comprehensive overview of how U.S. companies can promote their brands via social media in China in the absence of Facebook, Google and Twitter. Greg Neuwirth (right), president of AEM Electronics Performance chatted with Weber following his presentation.
- You must register as a critical first step to protecting your brand. “Register first in your home market,” said the Department of Commerce’s Salzman. “For most of you, that would be the United States. And register in the country you are exporting to. In this case, China—even if that country is part of the various treaties, such as a patent cooperation treaty. Make sure you are registered in the country because it will make enforcement easier. And make sure you understand the registration rules before you start exporting.”
- China is a first-to-file nation, meaning that whoever registers a trademark first owns it. “There are many examples where others have gotten there first and filed a trademark, from Michael Jordan to Nike to some of the most famous and iconic brands,” said Alibaba’s Dougherty. “I cannot stress enough the need to do the registration. Of course you want to protect your rights, but there is no sort of global trademark registration that would protect your brand around the world. They are geographic in nature, and you are going to need to register in China. I have seen examples of some really famous brands that may have been a little bit late.”
- Many U.S. companies are grappling with whether or not to seek sales in China. Kung Fu Data CEO Eron, who works with U.S. brands selling into China, noted that when companies ask whether they should seek business in China, he tells them that it doesn’t really matter if you decide to go or not. Chances are, if your product is any good, you are already there. Your products are likely sold indirectly through WDs based in the United States or elsewhere around the world. Unfortunately, your product could also be there in the form of counterfeits. In fact, as a number of experts pointed out, having a distributor on the ground—who has a vested interested in selling your product and eliminating counterfeit versions—is a valuable ally in overseas trademark and copyright protection.
Alibaba Takedown Panelists
Kung Fu Data
Senior Director of IP Enforcement
Office of Intellectual Property
U.S. Department of Commerce
- Monitoring online sites for counterfeit products is key. All of the speakers emphasized the need to stay on top of enforcement. “Make sure you are monitoring it,” Salzman said. “Make sure you report any problems you see.”
- The Alibaba Group owns multiple e-commerce platforms, including Taobao, T-Mall, Alibaba and Ali Express. “Taobao is [an online] marketplace,” Dougherty said. “The best analogy I can think of is that Taobao is a marketplace that is focused on the Chinese market like eBay is a marketplace. T-Mall is more of a brand-owner authorized distributor [online] channel. Alibaba is actually not based in mainland China but in Hong Kong. The other two are aimed at buyers outside China. Alibaba is more of a wholesale platform, and Ali Express is aimed at international consumers who want to buy goods that are manufactured in China.”
- A rights holder can request that a potential infringing listing be removed by Alibaba through a notice and takedown process, Eron said. The landing page for filing a complaint for the Alibaba platforms is at ipp.allibaba.com. Once you log in, the first thing you do is submit your information—any trademarks, patents or other relevant documents. Eron said that this is to establish who you are and your rights to the brand/products. The next step is the filing of an actual complaint. At that point you go into to the system and choose which of the platforms is offering the offending products (Taobao, Alibaba, etc). You can submit multiple requests at one time and check back on the site for the status of the complaint.
The Alibaba Group reported that 493 million users access its China marketplaces every month.
In addition to the main program for reporting IPR issues, Alibaba hosts another program that rights owners must qualify to take advantage of. It is called the Good Faith program. As described in Alibaba literature, “The Good Faith Program was created to offer a simplified and expedited notice-and-takedown process for proven property-rights holders who consistently demonstrate a record of genuine and conscientious notice-and-takedown reporting. In 2016, the average number of international property rights infringement complaints submitted by rights holders in the Good Faith Program via Alibaba’s online Intellectual Property Protection platform exceeded those submitted via the regular notice-and-takedown process by 29 times.