By Stuart Fuller


In the final strategic plan to combat Intellectual Property abusers, NetNames’ Stuart Fuller considers whether brain rather than brawn is the right approach to combat infringers.


“He who knows the enemy and himself will never in a hundred battles be at risk,” is one of the most famous quotes of the 4th century BC Chinese military leader Sun Tzu, preserved for history in the book The Art of War.  The greatest advantage an organization has doesn’t come from limitless resources but from the ability to understand the competitive marketplace and how to best interact with it.

Ask any Chief Executive Officer what keeps them up at night and you will undoubtedly be told that it is not knowing what their biggest competitor is going to do next. History is full of stories of spies, espionage and intelligence gathering to try and gain an advantage, whether in love or war, business or pleasure.

One of the reasons why Hollywood continues to produce films such as the James Bond series, Mission Impossible and even the spoof-spy series, Johnny English, is because of our love of the mystery, glamour and excitement of the characters and the situations they find themselves in. Intelligence is a multi-trillion dollar industry, both on the silver screen and in real life, and shows no signs of slowing down in terms of the pace of technological change.

The Intelligence Strategy is probably the most indulgent of our five core approaches to intellectual property infringement. Trying to second guess the infringers is tough, but gathering competitive intelligence to stay one step ahead of the enemy is the single most effective treatment for brand and intellectual property abuse. If an organization knew where its enemies were going to strike next, it could minimise the impact to its customers, reputation and, ultimately, revenues by keeping one step ahead. Sounds easy?

Unfortunately it’s the hardest of the five to get right. Such intelligence into the minds of intellectual property infringers comes at a price.

Whatever the starting point is for a strategy based on intelligence, there has to be an expectation that the organization may not like what it initially finds. By exploring every corner of the Internet for intellectual property infringement, an organization is opening Pandora’s Box. Some issues may have been lurking online for years, whilst others will be relatively new, infecting some of the more recent additions to the online world, such as social Media and mobile apps. Discovering what the infringement landscape looks like may not be pleasant viewing, but with wisdom comes understanding, and with understanding an organization can start to formulate a plan to address what is already in the public domain, as well as preventative measures. Intelligence is only valuable if it is acted upon.

Organizations should create a risk matrix, understanding what impact infringements have on their key brands, markets and customers. The rise of social media and free opinion websites has changed the reputational management landscape for many organizations. Websites such as TripAdvisor have now become more important to the travel industry than the traditional travel agent, holding more power because consumers trust peer recommendations more than the words of a brand’s marketing campaign. If users are saying bad or, even worse, untruthful things about an organization in such a forum, the damage will fester.

The starting point for the creation of an Intelligence Strategy is understanding then acting. Negative sentiment is the new buzz phrase that covers online content, whether it be opinion or review websites such as TripAdvisor, social media such as Twitter and Instagram, or the registration of domain names that clearly infringe Intellectual Property. The launch recently of the dotAdult, dotPorn and dotSucks gTLDs is a clear case in point. Does an organization want to let those Top Level Domain names fall into the hands of a third party? Many high profile individuals have implemented a defensive strategy already by registering these Top Level Domains, including Taylor Swift, Russell Crowe and Tony Abbott.


Whilst every organization will have a defined approach on tackling intellectual property infringement, the world moves at such a pace that any strategy must be reviewed regularly to ensure that the risks and rewards are balanced. What may have been the right approach for the offline world simply doesn’t translate into the new online world. Organizations must be flexible, nimble, adaptable and, above all, knowledgeable. It is a constant war, one that needs to be taken one battle at a time. There are some simple steps that every organization should take, such as:

  • Create a risk matrix of all current known and unknown threats and risks

  • Align online and offline campaigns

  • Base intellectual property policies on company priorities and strategic objectives

  • Understand the IP landscape and keep up to date with legislation and what potential infringers are doing

  • Educate staff and customers to be brand advocates and observers

Finally, remember the mantra of Robert Greene, author of the 33 Strategies of War. “Strategy is the art of looking beyond the present battle and calculating ahead to focus on the ultimate goal.”