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New Year, New Vision: Meet a Man Who Spends His Days Keeping Counterfeiters at Bay

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From contact lenses to cancer treatments, Johnson & Johnson has a robust portfolio of healthcare products—and Rich Kaeser is tasked with ensuring the safety and quality of all of the company's brands.
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hether it's sunscreen you buy at the drugstore or a shipment of contact lenses that arrives at your doorstep each month, there are numerous healthcare products you use each and every day that you likely never think could be counterfeit.

Fortunately, if you’re using a Johnson & Johnson product, there's a dedicated team, known as Global Brand Protection, whose sole job is to safeguard patients and consumers from the risks of illicit trade.

“Behind the scenes, there are teams of people working 24/7 to make sure that whatever you buy, it’s an authentic Johnson & Johnson product,” says Rich Kaeser, the company’s Vice President of Global Brand Protection. “We work with employees, manufacturers, data scientists, customs officials and many others to ensure that our brands stay safe from people who might want to copy or illegally resell our products.”

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Rich Kaeser, Vice President, Global Brand Protection

That promise of safety and authenticity is so important to Johnson & Johnson that it’s actually embedded in Our Credo, the company's guiding mission statement.

“Brand protection is right in the heart of the first paragraph, which states that our first priority is to ensure that patients, doctors, nurses, mothers and fathers get a quality product,” Kaeser notes. “To me, that clearly signifies our responsibility to make sure that whatever carries our name is actually our product.”

As part of our monthlong New Year, New Vision series of interviews with healthcare innovators, we sat down with Kaeser to learn more about what it means to be the protector of a company's portfolio of brands—and what's on his safety radar for 2019.

Q:

First off, what exactly is brand protection?

A:

We’re working to combat three situations: counterfeiting, or when someone makes an imitation of a product; tampering, which happens when someone illegally alters a product in a way that might make it dangerous to others; and product diversion, which is when a product is supposed to go to one place but it illegally gets shipped to another market or sold through another channel that we haven’t approved.

If, for example, a consumer calls in to complain that her bottle of sunblock SPF 50 didn’t protect her skin, or that his shampoo smells funny, each of these calls is flagged as a suspect counterfeit, or illicit trade, incident.

Q:

Why do these illegal practices happen?

A:

We work hard to make sure our products are top-quality, and because of this, people really value what we offer. Unfortunately, this value means we’re walking around with a bull's-eye on our back.

When you have personal care products, medicine or medical devices that are often at the top of the market, it attracts counterfeiters and lawbreakers who want to copy them because they know these products sell.

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The counterfeiting of a Johnson & Johnson product is halted in India, thanks to Global Brand Protection efforts

Q:

What are you most proud of implementing since you started in your role five years ago?

A:

One measure we’ve taken is to implement an illicit trade analytics program (ITA).

Johnson & Johnson is an enormous and complex company. We have many external manufacturers, packaging suppliers, labeling suppliers and more. And we collect huge amounts of data from them about how they’re working, as well as data from our call centers and such third-party sources as industry groups, government sources and law enforcement.

ITA pools it all together and uses advanced analytics to find anomalies, connections and patterns within the data that helps us expose illicit trade activity and understand key issues, like which products are being targeted, which might be targeted next and where the counterfeiters are—all of which helps us make better-informed decisions about illicit trade risk management.

For instance, when we receive a product complaint, ITA enables us to use algorithms and machine learning to analyze thousands of lines of customer reports from around the world to quickly identify if there are other instances of customers calling in about a concern. ITA automatically classifies the complaints and identifies similarities, so we can respond faster and more effectively. And that’s just one ITA tool at our disposal.

A few years ago, before ITA was in place, something unusual happened with a large customer in the U.S. Suddenly, they weren’t buying from us anymore, but store shelves were still full of Johnson & Johnson products. This meant they found another source for our products that wasn't one of our authorized distributors, but an illicit supplier. We were able to resolve the problem, but we probably could have gotten to the bottom of it a lot faster with ITA.

In the e-commerce space, most of the time the seller is invisible, which makes the internet an ideal storefront for selling counterfeit products. We’re working to combat this by using programs that scan our products to make sure they’re authentic and safe.

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Q:

The popularity of internet shopping has exploded. What unique challenges does it pose?

A:

In the e-commerce space, most of the time the seller is invisible, which makes the internet an ideal storefront for selling counterfeit products.

We’re working to combat this by using programs that scan our products to make sure they’re authentic and safe, and advanced analytics and algorithms similar to the ones used in ITA to determine whether product images and listing information online are suspicious and might need further investigation. We’re also constantly monitoring and taking down illicit internet sites and listings.

Whenever I talk about brand protection, I always like to encourage people to be aware and know your product and who you’re buying from. As they say, if a deal is too good to be true, it usually is.

Q:

What are some new strategies you’re working on for 2019?

A:

One area of opportunity is the rise in goods being shipped via small parcels. It used to be more prevalent for illicit goods to move via freight carriers, rather than in more agile parcel shipments.

Now, you have all these packages shipped internationally via air, ground and boat, and these are far more difficult to monitor. So we’re working with customs officials to train them to improve on the number of eyes that are on our products coming into and leaving different cities, ports and free trade zones around the world.

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3-D printing technology is a new anti-counterfeiting focus area for Kaeser's team

Another important issue we work on at Johnson & Johnson: How do we leverage our reach and size for good? And how do we work with other large organizations to keep brands safe?

Last year, we benchmarked across 44 other organizations to see what tools and practices we all use to protect our respective brands, and are now working to see how we might compile an inventory of practices that any company can leverage going forward. We’re also looking to see how we can use that information and collaborate to come up with ways we can all work more effectively against counterfeiting, product diversion and tampering.

Finally, 3-D printing is huge right now and it’s a technology that can revolutionize healthcare. But it keeps me up at night! Why? It’s an area that's ripe for counterfeit, so I’m working closely with our business and security teams to figure out how to prevent that from happening.

Learn how product quality and reliability is a critical part of everything we do.

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