In doing so, they investigate worldwide - often against organised counterfeiting networks and increasingly in the area of online trading. Lita Silje Jänisch is one of these people. She heads the Global IP Enforcement department at Mercedes-Benz Intellectual Property GmbH & Co. KG. We asked her how she and her team fight against product piracy, and what her daily routine looks like.
Brand Protection at Mercedes-Benz
Protectors of the Star
Counterfeit products are not only illegal and damaging to the company, they can also endanger road safety and are often produced under inhumane conditions. That's why our colleagues in the IP Enforcement unit at Mercedes-Benz are working to put a stop to product piracy.
6 min reading time
Mrs. Jänisch, a brief explanation: What exactly is your daily work about?
Generally speaking, we at IP Enforcement identify and enforce infringements of Mercedes-Benz Group AG's intellectual property worldwide. Our main driver here is to remove counterfeit safety-relevant replacement and service parts from circulation; customer protection is our primary concern. We identify counterfeiters, track down fakes and accompany raids with customs and law enforcement agencies. While the term "counterfeiter" almost sounds harmless, we are often dealing with organized crime and substantial counterfeiting networks - product piracy is a "global business", so to speak, with extremely high profits.
What developments have you observed in recent years? Has the Corona pandemic affected your work?
In general, we have been observing an increasing online trade in counterfeit products for a number of years. It is very clear that the pandemic has accelerated this even further. It has led to customs authorities and courts having had to suspend their work for a while. At the same time, global production and trade in counterfeits, especially through online channels, has reached new heights.
In 2020, we took over 138,000 counterfeit product listings offline! In 2019, the figure was just over 50,000. Of course, we also take a close look at major shopping events, so that we are able to remove as many counterfeits as possible from the network in one fell swoop. But we also keep an eye on social media platforms, and specific accounts and domains. In doing so, we focus on a wide variety of products and also carry out test purchases on a frequent basis. This can add up to several thousand questionable websites per week, which we check and have removed if necessary.
”If counterfeits get into the hands of customers, this can be really dangerous, especially in the case of safety-relevant parts.”
How do you intend to counter the growing online trade in counterfeit products in the future?
By significantly strengthening our activities in the area of "Online IP Enforcement". Because we are seeing a strong trend towards trading via apps right now. This is no longer a matter of well-known, established platforms, but of small, fast-growing networks. Certainly, this topic will occupy us even more in the future. The structure of these stores requires a completely different monitoring approach. This is because these apps are often created at very short notice, and can generate high user numbers extremely quickly. And since they are not publicly accessible to everyone like normal online shops, investigating them is much more time-consuming.
Where do you see the biggest problems with counterfeit products?
First of all there is the safety aspect: if counterfeits get into the products of customers, this can be really dangerous, especially in the case of safety-relevant parts. And this can also affect products that one would not necessarily have on the radar at first. That's why our activities not only protect our brands and other IP rights, but especially our customers. From a company's perspective, however, product piracy also causes financial damage. Last year over 1.7 million counterfeit Mercedes-Benz products were seized. At the same time, of course, counterfeit products can damage our reputation and our brands if they are not identified as such, but are of a lower quality than our genuine products. Moreover, counterfeit products cause further damage because product pirates act with a high degree of criminal intent and often produce their goods without regard for environmental standards, employment protection or human rights.
Can you give us an example of how counterfeiting can compromise safety?
A case comes to mind from the year 2021. A driver of a Mercedes-Benz car was travelling at about 130 km/h when unexpectedly, the hood popped open and smashed the windscreen. Fortunately, nobody was injured when this happened. Upon investigation, our colleagues discovered that the driver had replaced the genuine grille with a counterfeit one ordered on the internet. It was technically faulty manufactured, and prevented the hood lock lever from engaging properly when closing. This shows that even more "decorative" vehicle parts can be safety-relevant and you have to be very careful when replacing original parts. To be on the safe side, you should have the exchange carried out by an authorized Mercedes-Benz dealer.
What tips can you give buyers on how to avoid counterfeits?
It's not always easy to spot a fake at first glance. However, there are signs that may indicate counterfeiting. In the case of an online shop, one of these may be that the seller offers a conspicuously large number of different brands, or that the prices are unusually low. One should always be wary of apparent bargains on the internet or on parts forums! The professionalism of the shop and the ratings can also provide clues. Sometimes you can even tell from the product photos or designations that these may not be genuine parts. And of course there are always the very unusual counterfeits, e.g. products that we don't even manufacture. Since in the end it is always about your own and the safety of other road users, I can - as already mentioned - repeatedly only recommend to contact an authorized dealer.
Finally, a personal question: How did you come to work in this particular field? How do you become an IP enforcer at Mercedes-Benz?
I studied law in Constance, Hamburg and London, and then worked in a law firm in the field of anti-trust law. I always found it particularly exciting that I also had to deal with the consumer perspective, different products or markets and the protection of innovations. And that's what I find so appealing about IP law. Naturally, I'm very proud to be defending the DNA of the Group on a daily basis, above all the "Mercedes-Benz" brand and the "three-pointed star", and seriously interfering with the counterfeiters' business model.