Tools, Not Fools

May 1, 2008

We in the anti-counterfeiting industry know how hard it is to find a good search tool to suit our needs. I speak with clients, colleagues and others with the same result. One company pays an exorbitant amount of money for an online tool that suits a need or two. Another company does the same with another just-as-costly product. Truthfully, these companies’ search tools were developed for other markets and ‘tweaked’ to be sold to ours. A primary (and not completely unrelated) market would be channel control of genuine hard goods, minimum advertised price monitoring, and such.

That’s all neat. But why are we the square peg, the red-headed stepchild? Is it because brand owners’ legal departments are given budgets that are dwarfed by those of their counterparts in marketing, etc.? If that is the case, industry-wide budget constraints can be the answer to that question. I have a different answer.

It could be that NONE of these search companies have actually authored a tool that can effectively filter suspected counterfeit goods. Channel control and minimum advertised price filtering is a fairly simple process if you know how to write code. Those tools are comprised of algorithms and form, yes. A.I.? No. Though all claim so. I dare say it is a falsity.

I have been given webinars by a number of these companies and found that none of my most basic questions were answered to my satisfaction. Whenever one asks about how the A.I. works, the salesman responds something like, “There is always a human element involved.” Yeah. More than they care to say. Patented technology? I say schmatented technology!

Each of these companies’ interfaces show your infringements in a list with a nice pretty bow. But it was plugged into a back end by a person. Yes. No computer did that. A human was paid to Google for goods and copy and paste results into a database that looks magical. It is no more magical than when I pull a quarter from my nephew’s ear.

I know daring to use the “F” word may appear rude at first. But I have been working within this community for much of my life. I run into people regularly who think that using smoke and mirrors to sell a product is OK. It is the purest form of cognitive dissonance. A number of these companies are very, very good at channel/price control and even name/mark use. As far as anti-counterfeiting is concerned, some will soon take the advice of Seth Godin and recognize it is a cul-de-sac and a few will survive ‘The Dip’.

Law firms with whom I work manage a room of college kids trolling the ‘net. I have seen this. It is true. Many of these firms have tailored very effective procedures for this. I, Rob Holmes, have been trolling the Internet for counterfeits since 1995, and lay claim to be the world’s leading expert in this field. I too practice this same method. Internet genius Jason Calacanis’ latest startup is just that, but for the masses. The immense success of Mahalo as a human-powered Google filter is confirmation that a man using a computer beats a computer… every… single… time. I can say with no equivocation that, frankly, there is no search tool better than a few well-trained employees, Google and a good supervisor.

I give a seminar called “Trademark Search 2.0” which explains much of this theory in a fashion that is diplomatic and very educational. If you wish to book me in person, please email me at