uFaker: Fun and crowdsourcing for anticounterfeiting

uFaker 2I first encountered the uFaker people at this year’s annual The INTA meeting in whatever city it was, and I was so impressed that I told them I would blog about it, which may or may not have impressed them.  What worked out particularly well, though, is that between then and now a lot of other outlets, many of them quite a bit bigger than this one, have written about uFaker, so I don’t have to do the hard work of exposition.

Which I hate.

So, Crain’s explains (I’ve added some links):

Detective work is in now the palm of shoppers’ hands.

An app that launched to consumers [in July 2013] helps shoppers take an active role in identifying counterfeit goods. The Web and mobile platform uFaker allows users to take photos and upload a description of the retailer’s location, which feeds into a privately-owned anti-counterfeiting database used by the companies bent on outing illegal copycats. . . .

The app was created by Jason Drangel, a partner at Epstein Drangel, a New York City-based intellectual property law firm. Mr. Drangel envisioned a platform that would not only harness the breadth of consumers’ reach but would also create a database of suspected counterfeiters that brands and their lawyers could use to take the illegal merchandise off the streets. . . .

The database will aggregate reports from consumers, private investigators and employees whose companies’ products are being copied. The data also includes shipping activity and U.S. Customs logs for companies with a track record of counterfeiting through a partnership with Panjiva, which collates export and import data for trade professionals. . . .

In exchange for reporting fraudulent goods, uFaker participants will earn rewards, such as retail discounts with online stores like Overstock.com, Lucky Brand and 1-800-Flowers.com. uFaker will also run competitions to reward top reporters and encourage updates. . . .

In fact, trademark brands from the entertainment, gaming and clothing industries are already using the database to actively protect their interests. One such brand identified on uFaker’s website is Rovio Entertainment’s Angry Birds, whose globally recognizable characters are depicted, legally or not, on cell phone cases, stuffed animals and other items. CJ Products is also on board to prevent copies of their beloved Pillow Pets, stuffed animals that double as a pillow when unfolded.

uFaker is a free download for consumers and is currently available on the iPhone. An Android app will be released in coming weeks. For businesses, uFaker is available for a free two-month trial period and then costs $3,000 a year for trademark owners and $1,500 a year for lawyers and licensees.

There’s lots of other coverage collected at the uFaker website, including a post on a blog called Geek Obsessed that links to an over-the-top — purposely, I’m sure! — YouTube video featuring a couple of familiar-looking everyday consumers learning about, and then eagerly adopting, uFaker to slake their outrage over street-corner counterfeit peddlers.

uFakerI appreciate the ingenuity here,as well as uFaker’s great value for marketing Epstein Drangel’s anticounterfeiting practice.  Other anticounterfeiting law practices utilize client-accessible intranets to facilitate tracking of enforcement efforts, but this outward-facing effort seems unique.

Truth to tell, the power and appeal of uFaker as a law firm marketing piece does remind a little bit of what a Carvel franchisee — and my boss at the time — told me about Carvel’s well-known (at least in metropolitan New York) TV and radio advertisements back in the day.  “That’s not to get people into the stores to buy ice cream,” he said, explaining what he represented to be the broad understanding of franchisees.  “It’s to get people to buy franchises.”  That’s not a crime, of course, as long as your franchises are on the up and up.

I don’t really know how many people are smartphoning in their uFaker collars and raking in cool rewards for their efforts.  But as a way to distinguish Epstein Drangel’s practice from everyone else out there doing anticounterfeiting work, it’s brilliant — especially if you have user data indicating that, yes, it really is working, whatever working means.  In the talks I’ve had with Jason and his associates, Ashly Sands and Sarah Cohen, first at The INTA and again a couple of weeks ago at the AIPLA annual meeting, they have reported some pretty impressive-sounding metrics, at least in terms of client buy-in.

The beauty part of such a system, of course, is not only at the pitching end, it’s on the back end:  Substantial clients have their people using the system, which is filled with their data and integrated into their in-house enforcement business.  Every time they log on they’re reinforcing their relationship with your firm — an experience which, presumably, is a positive reinforcement.  And the sunk investment by the client presumably makes them a lot more invested in that relationship as well.

Do consumers really want to be uSnitchers?  Probably some do, especially if they’ve been ripped off by counterfeiters.  On the other hand, I have long argued that the anticounterfeiting bar, for all its many merits, is working at a distinct disadvantage that they can’t really quite acknowledge.  That disadvantage is the fact that lots and lots of consumers who buy fakes want fakes, for better or for worse.  So to the extent that uFaker sells itself as something every consumer of branded goods, authentic or otherwise, would want to play with, that’s probably a bit of wishful thinking.

But then there are good citizens, such as LIKELIHOOD OF CONFUSION®.  I’ll be downloading uFaker onto my Android today — because as subversive as I may be on some IP issues, on counterfeiting I don’t really see that there’s anything to be said for the dark side.  Is there?  No.

Plus, I want to collect valuable prizes!  No faking that — I like stuff.  And I will report back on my new deputy-IP-agent status soon.

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Ron Coleman

I write this blog.