By  on November 23, 2005

NEW YORK — Companies looking to fortify intellectual property rights need to focus their resources on protecting their brands before they're knocked off.

This was one of the key themes during the American Apparel and Footwear Association's first anticounterfeiting conference, "Knock It Off," held at the Fashion Institute for Technology here last week.

Speakers at the conference urged companies to collaborate with other brand owners to maximize the impact of anticounterfeiting initiatives. Companies also should record registered trademarks with customs officials as well as with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

The first step for a company looking to safeguard its brands is to register its trademarks with the USPTO, but that is only the first step. Barbara Kolsun, senior vice president, general counsel, for Seven For All Mankind, said registering a brand or trademark with the USPTO is a good first step. But it may not be enough.

"Any brand that is hot is going to be copied," she said. Recording registered trademarks with customs officials in major ports ensures that a brand will be part of customs' program to stop shipments of counterfeit goods coming into the U.S.

Following 9/11, resources for fighting intellectual property crimes have tightened up as it takes a backseat to fighting terrorism, said George McCray, chief of the Intellectual property rights branch of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

"Because our resources are so stretched, we're not even recommending enforcement where we don't have recordation," he said. Last week, his association unveiled a Web-based recordation system to help in these efforts, he said.

Education is another important area in the fight against knockoffs. Training Customs officials, employees and consumers on how to spot fake goods also can discourage the practice.

Regarding collaboration, brand owners can team up with municipal officials. Kolsun cited the multiagency effort of the Mayor's Office of Midtown Enforcement in Manhattan as one successful example.

Collaboration also involves working with competitors who are in the same product category, Kolsun said.

"I don't have a lack of places to go to stop counterfeits or a lack of partners," said Dave Althoff, counsel for Kate Spade. "People are never just selling counterfeit Kate Spade bags; there's always other brands, as well."Collaborating allows not only for shared investigative fees and legal clout, but it can help when it comes to prosecuting cases.

Robert Stoll, director of the office of enforcement at USPTO, said brand and trademark holders need to follow cases through to the end, even abroad. Prosecuting cases in places such as China — even if winning the case would be difficult — gives judges and prosecutors there experience and information they can use in future lawsuits, he said.

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