Rachel Jones, SnapDragon
Rachel Jones is the CEO and founder of SnapDragon, a brand protector that tackles counterfeiting online. She sat with Mark Swift for an interview at her company HQ in Edinburgh.
MS: Rachel, how did you originally get involved in anti- counterfeiting?
RJ: The product I created and was exporting to 40 countries, the Totseat, was counterfeited. I was so angry, and I couldn’t afford to take on the agencies that fight counterfeits for luxury brands, because I was a small business with just one product. So, I learned how to fight back myself.
I employed a couple of Chinese students here, in Edinburgh, and used our registered intellectual property (IP) to tackle the counterfeits head on. I made the Totseat’s IP really do what IP is meant to do – that is defend a brand – and because we had, and have, really good IP, it worked. We identified and removed every seller with a fake over a sustained period of months and it really made a difference. Saved the business, saved the brand – all the rest of it.
And after a couple of years of giving out free advice to others in the same situation, it was eminently sensible to recruit experts and to set up a separate business, SnapDragon, to help other SMEs fight fakes online.
MS: What does SnapDragon do to help?
RJ: Our software searches the world’s busiest online marketplaces for products which infringe our clients’ IP, resulting in a list of products – and or sellers – which are probably spurious. We can then report the links for removal, using our clients’ IP, or the clients can do this themselves, depending on their resources and their language skills.
We work very closely with the Chinese platforms, and have been instrumental in helping key platforms to design brand protection strategies for SMEs, but also with eBay and Amazon, where the issues can be just as challenging. But it’s a global problem. Counterfeiting is worth 0.5 trillion dollars a year, which is 2.5 percent of all global trade. And this increases by 25 percent, year on year. It is a big issue.
MS: What is it like, on a personal level, having your product counterfeited?
RJ: It’s an incredibly emotive issue. It doesn’t matter whether you’re making a baby product, a toy, a piece of gym kit, or dog food – if it is your brand and you’ve put your life, blood, sweat, and tears, into it and somebody copies it, it is not flattery. It’s soul-destroying and, until it’s happened to you, you have no idea of the level of personal violation. It’s a very difficult issue: both personally and professionally.
MS: What are the most essential steps to protecting yourself from counterfeits?
RJ: I think the thing that matters the most, when you’re trying to protect anything, is awareness in advance of what you might need. Think about your intellectual property before you go into a crowd funding campaign. So many lovely and brilliant products have come a cropper through crowdfunding just because their IP wasn’t protected before they started.
MS: How should young companies approach patents, design rights, and trademarks?
RJ: In terms of a defending a product online, a trademark is the most valuable entity you can have (but I say this not as a trademark attorney, so this is a personal not a professional recommendation). Trademarks are wonderful. Quick, easy and cheap, comparatively speaking. Patents are more difficult and can be hugely expensive – running into tens of thousands of pounds, particularly for international markets.
You can register a trademark yourself. Although, it’s a better idea, if you can afford it, to get professional help. Logos, words, colours – all can be trademarked, and in some places, even smells too. Design rights are also very valuable and should be considered wherever possible for products.
MS: And finally, do you have any particular advice for manufacturing companies?
RJ: Start by thinking about the territories in which you’re going to sell, as well as those where you will manufacture. Think about the languages you’re going to offer your product in.
Include some secret ingredients that, if somebody ripped you off, they might not include. If you’re making a sock, as an example, include in your spec green thread around a particular toe. So that if it’s copied it’s very unlikely that someone will go to the effort of changing the thread around one toe. And include three of these types of things. Things that you can ask about remotely, and someone can easily give you an answer. Then you can know quickly whether or not a product is genuine.
It doesn’t matter if your product is made of silicon, or a fabric product, it’s a good idea to do this. And it’s not like you say to the factory ‘please include the green thread’. It’s just a part of the spec, so that it isn’t highlighted. Then if the factory makes some cheap product, say they make 500 for you, and 500 to go out the backdoor, they will never bother to change the way they are sewing it or manufacturing it. It’s a really good way of checking if you’re being ripped off – but to be honest, factory reliance is infinitely better than it once was, and copies and fakes don’t usually come from your own source.
This article first appeared in Young Company Finance Scotland, and is reproduced here by the journalist with permission from YCF’s editor.