Compagnie Financière Richemont SA sued a “network” of unidentified Chinese counterfeiters in Illinois federal court, accusing them of operating various stores hosted by eBay and Alibaba selling knockoffs of some of its most well-known luxury brands, including Chloé, Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels.
All of the brands hold dozens of various trademarks protecting their names and related imagery going back decades.
Richemont said the counterfeiters are thought to be “an interrelated group working in active concert” to manufacture and sell fake products targeted at consumers in the U.S. The company noted that online counterfeiters “are estimated to receive tens of millions of visits per year and to generate over $135 billion in annual online sales.”
Richemont also took issue with many of the stores holding themselves out as authorized retailers through the offer of customer service and the “indicia of authenticity and security” associated with genuine retailers, like payment logos, brand imagery and search engine optimization making use of brand names.
As is typical in these sweeping infringement cases, however, identification of the individuals or entities actually operating the stores is difficult to come by. Richemont’s head of digital intellectual property Richard Graham, told the court that the defendants “go to great lengths to conceal their identities.”
While online registration forms for the stores are often not entirely filled out or completed with “randomly typed letters,” Graham noted that counterfeit operators also created web sites and marketplace accounts on multiple platforms selling the same products.
“Such defendant Internet store registration patterns are one of many common tactics used by the defendants to conceal their identities, the full scope and inner workings of their counterfeiting operation, and to avoid being shut down,” Graham added.
Nevertheless, the Swiss luxury operator is seeking damages of at least $2 million per infringing item, which could easily equal damages in excess of $100 million.
Richemont is one of many fashion companies to methodically go after online counterfeiters through the courts. Over the past few months LVMH has gone after social media savvy watch counterfeiters, Chanel and Adidas have launched suits worth a combined $249 million, Louis Vuitton in July nabbed a $23 million judgment against counterfeiters and Gucci in April won $9 million in a similar suit.
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