MANILA – Micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) with protected intellectual property (IP) and positive branding strategies have defied store closures and revenue losses that marked the first pandemic year, according to industry stakeholders. 
“Through e-commerce, MSMEs can reach out to more potential consumers not only within the country but also within international markets. E-commerce not only became a means for businesses to keep afloat during the pandemic but, in some cases, even helped MSMEs expand their markets,” Department of Trade and Industry’s (DTI) Special Concerns and Trade Promotions Group Undersecretary Abdulgani Macatoman said in a statement. 
However, Macatoman acknowledged that with opportunity comes risks, particularly that of unfair competition from copycats once creations and products of MSMEs are out in the open.
Latest estimates by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development show that imported fake goods are at USD509 billion as of 2016, about 3.3 percent of total trade that year.
Figures are expected to have spiked due to coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) and the accelerated e-commerce adoption. 
In the Philippines alone, IPOPHL reported counterfeiting and piracy reports and complaints surging to 121 in 2020, surpassing the 100 reports and complaints that IPOPHL received from 2016 to 2019 which even took into account all types of infringement. 
“IP stands as a protective guard to the activities in the e-commerce arena… As such, IP protection must be at the forefront of MSME business strategies more than ever,” Macatoman added. 
As companies reexamine where to best steer their efforts and spending in the new normal, experts underscored how IP registration and enforcement are some areas that can help them grow faster and realize their long-term ambitions. 
“We need to make sure that there's an IP protection budget for companies who are bigger and even for MSMEs like me,” Carissa Cruz-Evangelista, founder-chairman of Philippine Fashion Coalition, said in a recent IP forum.
She said IP protection is crucial especially for those venturing into different markets through e-commerce, which she encouraged MSMEs to pursue amid exploding growth in online trade. 
A report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) published on May 3 showed that Covid-19-induced movement restrictions increased online retail sales’ share to total retail sales from 16 percent to 19 percent in 2020, with UNCTAD calling it a “dramatic rise.”
In 2019, global e-commerce sales jumped to USD26.7 trillion, up 4 percent from 2018. 
Lazada chief operating officer Carlos Barrera said “over the course of the last year, we've had hundreds of thousands of MSMEs (transition to e-commerce) and we consistently see that those who are serious about IP, the ones who focus not just on selling and (giving) discounts, but the ones who focus on building a brand, delighting their customers, having very strong social media presence, having very clear branding... those really do much better.” 
Sherill Quintana, president of Philippine Franchising Association, echoed this, saying that at the height of the pandemic, those who were able to put extra effort in building their brands through the years, “they are the top-of-mind." (PR)