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AI: The final (transformative) frontier of counterfeiting?

Clever technology promises better enforcement, but risks a global arms race

There, it seems, no shortage of optimism. It is termed “transformative”, with “huge potential to rewrite the rules of whole industries”. But is the promise of AI about to collide with IP practicality?

The UK Government’s response to the IPO’s Artificial Intelligence and Intellectual Property Consultation, released in late June, maintained the bullish tone. A revolution may be in prospect. But, as with most upcoming revolutions in human history, there are few ideas about the future.

For the anti-counterfeiting community, the response raised little in the way of new insight for future enforcement issues. To be fair, the scope of the consultation rested largely on copyright and patent issues, as probably intended. Even then, the consultation favoured a wait and see response, citing the technological immaturity. Text and data mining (TDM) will however see a new copyright and database right exception which allows TDM “for any purpose”.

Perhaps the relative lack of concrete developments is unsurprising. Many promising applications remain under evaluation, in trial or used in a niche sense. Some remain largely invisible, buried in much larger systems but firmly under human management.

Upsides and downsides

Even so, we should expect AI to impact anti-counterfeiting. Attuned to potential changes in the environment, ACG members shared their insights to the Consultation.

They expect change but remain pragmatic. AI could bring significant advantages in identifying IP crime. Interpretative scanning could be a good possibility. Detecting trends, shifts and patterns on a real time basis should indeed be a key AI strength. More widely, they foresee increasing capabilities of AI to predict and forecast criminal behaviours and activities. This could be a real win. Rapid response in the anti-counterfeiting world is vital, and this could be a tech tool to help deliver it.

But a disruptive technology also carries downsides. Implementation competency is important. ACG members argues for trust in the systems themselves. AI mediation needs to be mature in development, properly configured… and right in its decision making every single time. What happens if legitimate traders get targeted by enforcement systems? Might immature systems simply fail to detect new patterns of criminality? Are brand owners and traders in danger of becoming over reliant on the systems? Will there be a negative public reaction to this use of AI anyway?

Above all, what is the other side likely to do in what is, after all, a likely global arms race? AI offers the same choices and new options to criminals as it does to enforcers. Counterfeiters may well use the technology to evade enforcement, or plan improved, more responsive tactics themselves, optimising production, logistics and distribution. False information, fabrication of waivers and permits is a possibility too.

Or, they could simply take an easier path and relocate activities to more unsupervised (in AI terms) jurisdictions.

As ever, it pays to be prepared and use technologies without leaving loopholes the other side can exploit.

Phil Lewis


About ACG

ACG represents more than 3,000 brands affected by this influx of fakes into the UK and delivers an international network of information, advice and contacts on all aspects of IP protection. Working with Government and law enforcement agencies since 1980, ACG is focused on providing an effective and sustained response to counterfeiting.

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