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Image: DMB Shanghai

“No expense is being spared when it comes to putting the right technology in place” and setting up dedicated teams to police Alibaba’s platforms for fakes, says Matthew Bassiur. The company’s Vice President and Head of Global Intellectual Property Enforcement told TFL that the Chinese internet giant – which brought in nearly $40 billion in revenue for 2018 and boasts a monthly mobile active user base of nearly 700 million – spends a “very significant amount” of money each year in furtherance of its intellectual property enforcement efforts.

The results of Alibaba’s increased efforts are ones that can be quantified. On the heels of announcing last month that Alibaba had seized a whopping $536.2 million worth of counterfeit goods from third-party sellers in 2018, the Hangzhou-based behemoth – which has faced pushback in the past about the adequacy of its efforts to rid its platforms (namely, TaoBao) of counterfeits –has since revealed that in 2018, 96 percent of the “potentially problematic” listings proactively removed by Alibaba were eliminated with 24 hours and before a single sale took place, a statistic made possible by Alibaba’s proprietary real-time scanning technology, one of its “most powerful enforcement mechanisms.”

Another striking stat? Alibaba saw 32 percent fewer takedown requests from rights holders in 2018. “That is significant,” according to Bassiur – who held similar roles at Pfizer and Apple before joining “Baba,” as he calls the company, in early 2016 – because it means that “rights holders are finding fewer problematic listings [on Alibaba’s platforms].” If anything, he says, “Brands are more focused now than ever on enforcing their rights, and they are finding fewer [fakes],” and consumers, too, are finding fewer fakes, approximately 70 percent less for 2018 compared to 2017.

As a whole, Alibaba asserts in its recently-released Intellectual Property Rights Protection Annual Report that its “major [intellectual property rights] protection metrics showed marked improvement in 2018,” thanks to a “combination of deep partnerships with key stakeholders – including rights holders, industry associations, government officials, law enforcement and Alibaba’s e-commerce platforms – and the deployment of state-of-the-art technology.”

For Bassiur, the “single biggest change” over the past year has been the level of collaboration between Alibaba and its external stakeholders. He points to the rise in membership in the Alibaba Anti-Counterfeiting Alliance (“AACA”) – a group that sees Alibaba partnering with brands “to create healthy society for the protection of intellectual property rights” by way of “the latest anti-counterfeiting technology” – increased to 121 rights holders in 2018, up from 30 when it was founded in 2017. Among the AACA’s members: adidas, Burberry, Canada Goose, Estee Lauder, Levi’s, L’Oreal, Louis Vuitton, Luxottica, Ralph Lauren, and Valentino, among others.

Such growth, according to Alibaba’s report, “not only demonstrates [its] commitment to collaboration with rights holders in the digital era, but also the increasing recognition by industry stakeholders of the AACA’s role as an important and effective community for [intellectual property] protection.” And maybe even more than that, it speaks to the rather remarkable transformation in perception that Alibaba has managed to achieve in the eyes of brands.