Every year companies lose millions to intellectual property (IP) theft. While counterfeit products are nothing new, brands and products are becoming increasingly easier to steal. As businesses move online, both companies and customers need to be savvier.

And the problem is global. According to the European Union's Intellectual Property Office, European companies are losing about €60bn in lost sales each year due to IP theft.

Some IP theft is easier to spot than others. Recently, two fake luxury boutiques were closed down in China. It was only the misspelled “Loius Vuitton” and “Plada” that alerted Chinese authorities that these stores were not the real deal.

While an entire fake store is an extreme example of IP theft, copycat products are appearing in our stores and on our shelves. However, sometimes what is or is not a copycat product is debatable. For example, the supermarket retailer, Aldi has been accused by food manufacturers, Heck Sausages and The Collective of copying their products even though no customers have complained to Aldi of being misled by the suspiciously similar packaging of their products.

In New Zealand, businesses can protect their IP through registering their rights (e.g. trade marks, patents and designs). The Fair Trading Act 1986 also prohibits misleading or deceptive conduct in trade, and repeat or egregious examples might result in a Commerce Commission investigation.

Generally, businesses that operate outside New Zealand should also register their IP in every country they operate in. Registered IP rights can give a cease and desist letter more ‘oomph’ and if need be, provide you with leverage in a dispute.

There is a global interest in protecting against unfair competition and preventing the market from being saturated with counterfeit goods. However, businesses should take active steps to protect their IP and ensure that their customers know they are buying quality.