A TRULY INTERNATIONAL LAW FIRM FOR IP OWNERS, BRAND MANAGER & PRIVATE LABEL SELLER
Working with world's leading brands for more than 18 years
We are headquartered in the heart of Munich in Germany with 12 affiliate offices all over Europe. Our agents and representatives are located in Chicago and Los Angeles and in the strongholds of chinese product piracy industry Shenzen and Guangzhou.
Hunting down Counterfeit products Lawyer for Brand Protection in the global marketplace
Rooting out and seizing counterfeiters, collaboration with colleagues from around the world: Christian Zierhut is a lawyer for brand protection and the right contact person when it comes to product counterfeiting. This can range from counterfeit toys as baby dolls or Frisbees to replica car body parts or model dresses and fan merchandise. In this interview, the 46-year-old brand protection expert reveals how he identifies counterfeiters and why trademark owners should talk with him.
I’m 46 years old and I studied in Würzburg, where I also completed my first and second state examination. I probably started my law career in high school. I completed the advanced course “Business Law” and experienced that with the German Civil Law Code – in its abstract, generally applicable norms – you can solve any case from life with one single legal text. I found that fascinating.
My parents ran a number of consumer electronics stores in Germany. During my school days from the age of 17, I already was solely responsible for one of these markets, with everything that went with it: employee support, purchasing and planning the advertising campaigns and reaching sale goals in the two-digit million euro height. So I was familiar with economic issues, and there was also this fascination for law. Enrolling in law and economics at the University of Würzburg was only logical.
Mr. Zierhut, you seem to be committed to justice. Where does this passion come from?
I always develop a particularly great passion when the chemistry is right between me and my client. I know exactly how it is when you have to fight as a creative entrepreneur against envious, imitators and fraudsters. Perhaps one in ten persons is really creative. This one gives everything, sits down and develops a new idea, a new design, a new product, invests a lot of time, energy, money and lifeblood. And then there are nine others around who can do nothing but make themselves comfortable and simply copper them out in their greed. Quick profit is more important to them than the thing itself. And that is unacceptable for me. Then cases become part of my personal affair because there are emotions behind them.
As a man with a sense of values and a certain love of principles, do you approach some things in an unconventional way?
Values like conscientiousness, diligence, reliability, loyalty are important to me. This is how I measure myself, but also my team. I have to be able to rely on the word of my collegues without having to set up a hundred-page contract for everything. I think a healthy mix makes work successful: principles and values provide a solid framework, but instinct for new situations, good feeling – that has to fill the frame. The courage to find unconventional solutions lets me tackle things and push them forward.
After the basic decision of the Bavarian Supreme Court in Munich, you were the first to found a law firm in the form of a stock corporation. That made you a pioneer in your field
The joint-stock company was the only company form for lawyers that gave me the freedom to implement my corporate goals. That was unconventional, but right. My corporate concept was awarded by the “BJU Young Entrepreneurs” with 1st place in Bavaria in the 2003 start-up competition. So my law firm’s history goes back 18 years now to the year 2002, when I founded “IHR ANWALT 24” the first lawyer stock corporation, which was approved by the Bar Association of Munich. This law firm is today known as Z I E R H U T * I P as a truly international law firm and recognised as one of the leaders amongst the international brand protection experts.
What have been your most important clients and projects in brand protection so far?
My work for the brand management of motorcycle world champion Valentino Rossi made me known among the big brands. Within a year we managed to create a real “X-ray picture of piracy” uncover its causes and take countermeasures until the market in Europe was completely “clean” and there were no more counterfeits all over Europe. Then the proceedings for Ewald-Schwarzer publishing against one of the biggest publisher in the world Axel-Springer AG. I am also proud of my work for Toni Rieger. At that time our opponent tried to flood the European market with chinese mass-produced imitations of car body parts. This was the marker for Europe. Christian Audigier’s “Ed Hardy” brand, which I have cared for until his passing. It was one of the largest anti-piracy mandates ever in Europe.
American’s tradition company Wham-O with over 70 years of history (the Frisbee® story) and one of the most recognizable luxury brands in the world today GALIA LAHAV . Currently we represent well-known fashion industry manufacturers, sporting goods manufacturers and electronics. That’s making me proud: Successful suits in the USA we played a part was for the band Iron Maiden and for Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour. Through our strategy we have succeeded in significantly reducing infringements by chinese vendors in Europe and the United States for the right owners of Stan Lee – Marvel’s superheros creator. I am the trust counsel of the World Boxing Association WKU WORLD for 15 years.
Ten years as a pioneer and entrepreneur – time for a balance. What were your best professional moments like?
If I count the years I’ve been an entrepreneur for nearly 25 years! During this time, the most beautiful stages were: my first company, the day of the exam results, my first law firm, my first won interim junction, my first won lawsuit and also, the day i completed my first solo flight, the day I met my spouse and the birth of my daughter; when my sister is visiting us from New York and always I grill steaks for my parents.
Have there been cases you’d rather forget?
In the year 2002 there was no lawyer stock corporation before. The approval by the bar was on the brink. I had to fight against many prejudices from the bar association and the legal profession. I was sweating until the decision was made in our favor. That was a big triumph. And there were people – when I was younger – who drove me crazy. Quick-tempered opponents, foolish lawyer colleagues and one judge. There are people behind every case. Strong feelings like pride and honor are often involved – you are never immune to surprises. And one disappointment with a former business partner. But at the end it made me stronger and my firm even more succesful.
What motivates you in your job?
My work achieves something. I know why I get out of bed every morning. Every year we collect and destroy potentially dangerous counterfeit products in the amount of Millions USD. That makes me proud.
What exactly is working as a brand protector like?
To put it simply, We hunt down product counterfeits. We intervene when a third party violates the trademark rights of our clients. We root these out and take them out of circulation as quickly as possible – online & offline. Ultimately, counterfeit products should not become available. In doing this, we work closely with local authorities, search warehouses or trace and follow transports. Although I spend a lot of time at my desk, I sometimes have to roll up my sleeves and get into a container to search for counterfeits.
What tasks await you at your desk?
The tasks vary widely. We look after clients inquiries when they have been notified about counterfeits. We research counterfeit products online and if we have located a counterfeiter, we consider the correct strategy. We always have to consider the local jurisdiction and legal situation because you cannot always proceed according to the same pattern. I can’t imagine a more exciting job!
You are specifically involved for the Europe marketplace. Are there any peculiarities here?
Statistics state that more than 80 percent of all counterfeit products come from Asia. And most of them are sold in the United States and Europe. My job is to prevent counterfeit products coming to Europe and the States or even better leaving the country of origin. Once the products are in circulation, it is much more difficult to root them out again.
How is your team put together?
In our team we have IP lawyers and also product and IT experts. We are in constant contact with the product managers of our clients. We work internationally and are in daily contact with partner colleagues from other countries. Although I am a German lawyer I also deal a lot with American law for example.
Thank you for your frankness.
(Interview by Melanie Roth)
About Z I E R H U T * I P * Attorneys for Brand Protection in the global market
At Z I E R H U T * I P we specialize in intellectual property protection and defend brands on the global market, using a combination of our experienced IP attorneys and proprietary technology. Technology is an important factor of our protection solution, it employs high efficient algorithms that scan the internet and identify IP infringements. We then validate and remove the infringements and ask the infringers for information about trade channels, sales and profit and we seize and destroy the counterfeits and claim damages, all while reporting the infringements in real time to our clients.