Greenhills, Shopee on USTR list of notorious markets for counterfeits

THE GREENHILLS Shopping Center in San Juan City and popular e-commerce platform Shopee are included in the United States Trade Representative’s (USTR) list of notorious markets for counterfeit and pirated goods.
In a report released on Jan. 31, the USTR identified 33 physical markets including Greenhills Shopping Center, Bangkok’s MBK Center, Beijing’s Silk Market and Kuala Lumpur’s Petaling Street Market, that continue to enable “substantial trade” in counterfeit goods.
It also identified 39 online markets including Shopee, Taobao, and Aliexpress, that facilitate the sale of products that are known as counterfeit.
“During the pandemic, many sellers of counterfeit goods adapted by transitioning from physical stores to e-commerce platforms and using the physical storefronts to facilitate the fulfillment of online sales,” the USTR said, noting that online sellers now use social media ads, hidden links, and drop shipping schemes to evade authorities.
In the Philippines, the USTR said many stalls in Greenhills Shopping Center sell fake goods such as electronics, perfumes, watches, shoes, accessories, and fashion items. A new seven-story building will be opened in Greenhills early this year.
“Greenhills Shopping Center has expressed willingness to cooperate with authorities and a belief that the opening of this (new) building will provide leverage to transition sellers of counterfeit goods into ‘legitimate’ sellers,” it said.
The USTR noted that Philippine law enforcers have taken action to seize counterfeit luxury goods, which are sold openly in the shopping center. For instance, authorities seized $1.4 million worth of counterfeit luxury goods from sellers in Greenhills.
“Right holders report enforcement activity in the form of warning letters and subsequent suspension of business, but the targets of enforcement often evade such efforts by moving the location of their stalls,” it said.
The Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines (IPOPHL) said that it has proposed a work plan to address piracy and counterfeiting activities in Greenhills.
In a separate statement, the IPOPHL said the draft plan is being reviewed by the members of the interagency National Committee on Intellectual Property Rights (NCIPR).
The NCIPR is set to meet later this month to discuss the draft plan, which includes strategies to address the proliferation of counterfeit items in Greenhills. It wants the shopping center operator to implement stricter monitoring of stalls and to slap bigger penalties against sellers of counterfeit items.
Under the plan, NCIPR will work with brand owners to submit affidavits of complaints directly to the mall operator, which would “indicate their expression of filing a legal complaint and as notice to the mall’s management of potential violators.”
“Truly, clearing Greenhills of IP infringement activities will not be an easy feat. Its long-standing reputation as a market for Class As and Bs and pirated DVDs has cut across generations. The problem demands the close and consistent collaboration among NCIPR members, local governments, brand owners and Greenhills — both its managers and vendors,” IPOPHL Director-General Rowel S. Barba said.   
ONLINE PLATFORMSMeanwhile, the USTR said there has been growing concern from right holders about the proliferation of counterfeit sales on social commerce platforms amid the e-commerce boom during the pandemic.
“Right holders state that while certain social commerce platforms have taken positive steps to implement anti-counterfeiting policies, many others still lack adequate anti-counterfeiting policies, processes, and tools such as identity verification, effective notice and takedown procedures, proactive anti- counterfeiting filters and tools, and strong policies against repeat infringers,” it said.
The USTR identified Shopee as one of the online markets where right holders have reported “high volumes of counterfeits” and have complained about “cumbersome and duplicative processes among the individual country-focused platforms, differing requirements for takedown requests, and slow response times.”
Shopee launched a pilot program for its new brand protection portal in 2022, but the USTR said right holders said the platform should improve procedures for vetting sellers and increase penalties against sellers of counterfeit goods.
The USTR also identified AliExpress, which is owned by China’s Alibaba, as a “dominant upstream distributor of counterfeit goods in wholesale quantities for online markets in the United States and other countries.” Another Alibaba-owned platform Taobao was also included in the USTR’s list.
“Another key concern of right holders is that penalties for repeat infringers do not stop known counterfeit sellers on AliExpress from remaining on the market, such as by operating multiple accounts,” it said. — RMDO