With nearly three years of rapid growth, experience and actions on multiple fronts, the Alibaba Anti-Counterfeiting Alliance has evolved into a full-fledged “IP-protection ecosystem,” Alibaba Senior Vice President Michael Yao said Thursday.
Addressing AACA members at a semiannual conference in Shenzhen, Yao noted the group’s ranks have swelled to 155 members from the 30 who founded it, and should reach 200 by mid-2020.
The AACA’s rights-holder members, who hail from 17 countries, see over 450 of their brands protected through collaboration with Alibaba through the alliance. That protection includes everything from reactive takedowns to proactive monitoring, utilizing artificial intelligence-powered algorithms and other more-sophisticated anti-counterfeiting technology, and offline leads investigated by law-enforcement groups, who sent over 40 police officers to attend the AACA conference.
“To be responsible for such a large number of brands is a significant milestone for the Alibaba Anti-Counterfeiting Alliance, and it speaks volumes about the confidence the members have placed in Alibaba, and each other, to make this alliance and partnership work,” said Yao, who heads the group’s intellectual-property-protection efforts with brands.
“I’m proud, not only of the growth in our member and brand numbers, but also the engagement of all stakeholders and the topics we’re now discussing. We are making a difference and achieving real results, such as in offline enforcement. We have made significant progress, and there is much more to come,” said Yao.
Looking specifically at the alliance’s success in offline investigations, between January and September, AACA members’ cooperation with Chinese law enforcement resulted in the closure of 492 counterfeit manufacturing rings and the arrest of 687 criminal suspects. The total value of these cases was estimated at RMB 1.24 billion ($175.2 million).
Strong, tangible progress in IP protection has been coupled with the roll out of complementary business innovations inside Alibaba’s own digital economy, the company said. They include upgraded Tmall flagship stores, with more customization options so that brands can be more-creative and deepen customer engagement. “IP protection is the foundation of creativity and business development,” Alibaba Chief Platform Governance Officer Jessie Zheng told AACA members.
Brands, themselves, say they have felt the effects of ever-stronger IP protection efforts through the AACA. Robin Smith, the China and Asia Pacific vice president and general counsel for Lego, said the Alibaba Anti-Counterfeiting Alliance has become an important platform for fostering collaboration among brand owners, Alibaba and IP-enforcement authorities.
“As a member of AACA, we are grateful for the level of support we’ve received from Alibaba, especially in our actions against illegal copycat products in China and globally,” Smith said. “We look forward to continuous and more in-depth cooperation and we are in full support of Alibaba’s good efforts in this critical area of IP protection.”
The AACA hasn’t just grown in sheer numbers since its founding. It has also become extremely diverse, Alibaba emphasized at the conference. AACA members last year were divided into 12 industry working groups to allow for better information-sharing within their sector. Growth in sectors has taken off since then, the company said.
The pharmaceuticals working group, for example, jumped to 11 members from two at last autumn’s conference, while the industrial and automotive IWG increased to 19 from 13 six months ago. And in terms of geographic representation, Europe overtook North America as the largest region represented in the AACA, with 34% of members versus 31%, respectively. The U.S. and China remained the largest two countries by number of members, with 48 and 34, respectively.
In the coming six months, Alibaba will roll out an “AACA User Center,” an online portal where members can interact with Alibaba’s IP-protection teams. In addition to serving as a platform for exchanging information, the User Center will host a dashboard to track member activity and contributions to the AACA, online training materials and a booking function for AACA-related meetings.
The AACA conference was held just days after Alibaba was recognized for its own IP-enforcement work at the World Trademark Review Conference in London. The award, which was presented by the City of London Police, highlighted Alibaba’s leadership in brand protection and its “significant contributions and valued partnership in offline criminal investigations.”
It was the third award that Alibaba has been given this year for its brand-protection efforts. In Boston in May, Alibaba was awarded World Trademark Review’s Asia Pacific Team of the Year for its work in brand protection. The company won the “Luxury Law Innovator in IP Rights and Technology” award at the Luxury Law Summit in London last April.