The New ‘Anti’ Hero
Despite the ubiquity of the Internet, there is oftentimes still a befuddling, gee-whiz quality ascribed to it. Algorithms and SEO-speak are not easily translatable for the average person, and even though coding may be in the skill set of many millennials, that isn’t the case for older generations. What you see isn’t always what you get, especially when it’s exactly what you want. While the Internet has been tamed since the 1990s, that doesn’t mean everybody plays nice.
Scam artists abound, capitalizing on the anonymity afforded them by the constructs of a location-agnostic digital marketplace. They use a smoke-and-mirrors approach to a sale, hoping to distract potential customers enough that they “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain”—or screen—until they give up their credit card information. These websites deal in counterfeit brands, and their significant profits are a pain point for both consumers and the brands they love … and love to buy.
In fiscal year 2013 alone, according to the website of the Washington, D.C.-headquartered International Anticounterfeiting Coalition: “The Department of Homeland Security seized counterfeit goods valued at over $1.7 billion at U.S. borders.” And that’s only the counterfeit goods that were confiscated.
Into this dizzying fray of international fraud and trademark infringement walk attorneys like Justin Gaudio (JD ’08), shareholder with Greer, Burns & Crain (GBC) in Chicago. His legal career has focused on all facets of intellectual property law, including patents and trademarks, with the bulk of his experience on Internet and technology law aimed at combating online counterfeiting and infringement.
Gaudio truly enjoys his work; he’s passionate about using his technical skills to right wrongs. “It’s interesting because it combines a lot of the technical aspects of how the Internet works with my knowledge of those concepts to shut down these mostly Chinese-based counterfeit websites,” Gaudio said of his online anticounterfeiting skills, which he learned in his undergraduate career, honed at DePaul’s College of Law and has been putting into practice at GBC since 2007.
He didn’t enter into law to defend the sensibilities, reputations and wallets of duped brands and consumers from fraudulent infringers, per say. Rather, the University of Cincinnati graduate planned to use his BS in computer engineering and his minor in mathematics to work with patent law. “But,” Gaudio said, “I just fell into this Internet counterfeit enforcement space.” And he has thrived as though it was all planned.
In fact, Gaudio has worked on more than 200 cases during his short tenure at GBC, having helped develop the IP firm’s online enforcement solutions. In just the past three years, Gaudio and his colleagues have seized more than 120,000 counterfeit domains, restrained more than 19,000 PayPal accounts (and frozen more than $26 million in these accounts) and redirected more than 20 million unique visitors away from counterfeit websites.
“The massive volume of online counterfeit websites, along with the covert nature of the individuals behind the sites, usually located in China, creates significant challenges for brand owners,” he explained. “We have success shutting them down by using technology to facilitate large scale enforcement through third-party Internet providers.
“[The anticounterfeiting space] is an area that will continue to grow and will continue to be challenging,” Gaudio predicted. “Many of the people that we help clients shut down are located offshore in China, so it’s challenging to get to them, particularly from the U.S. Having the technical background combined with the legal, I think, is advantageous: It’s a skill set that you need to succeed in this arena.”
Being able to understand the Internet and how it operates—and navigate it as deftly as a fraudulent site operator would—Gaudio added, are all crucial elements to shutting down counterfeit sites. His education choices and his efforts to stay abreast of industry news and trends continue to allow him to thrive in the anticounterfeiting space. He advises that first-year students find their niches and own them. “Become an expert in a certain area; find a niche and focus on that. Don’t try to do everything. And, have an open mind,” Gaudio said.
Lucky for Gaudio’s clients—but unlucky for would-be fraudulent site operators—he is firmly entrenched in the anticounterfeiting space.