Today, counterfeit products make up about eight percent of world trade, totaling a whopping $1.7 trillion, with much of the revenues from large-scale operations going to organized crime.
“As consumers shop more online, we have seen a corresponding increase in counterfeit products bought online,” explained Paul Brown, UL’s (Underwriters Laboratories) Vice President of Intellectual Property & Litigation. “Products are no longer simply shipped on pallets to distributor, but are often shipped directly to consumers from sellers using online marketplaces. It is very challenging for online marketplaces with millions of sellers to completely know their supply chains and for consumers to know they are getting genuine products.”
Brown sat down with Inside Counsel for an exclusive interview on the latest trends in intellectual property crime and key players that are heavily affected, best practices for combating IP crime, and new tools and initiatives that are being implemented by law enforcement officials, and key considerations to help organizations and brands protect their IP and promote anti-counterfeiting
IP crime threatens the health and safety of consumers, causes billions of dollars of economic loss to legitimate businesses, and can ultimately stifle innovation. Because working for a safer word is a key part of UL’s mission, Brown and his team are concerned about the threat that counterfeits pose to consumer safety because oftentimes counterfeit products are shoddy, low quality and in some cases extremely dangerous.
“The effects of counterfeiting are not limited to consumers — retailers and manufacturers also feel the aftermath,” he said. “Counterfeiting steals from legitimate businesses and often supports organized crime. By protecting our mark, we are helping our clients ensure the legitimacy of their products and services and are also stopping counterfeits from entering the marketplace.”
UL recently partnered with INTERPOL to develop the International IP Crime Investigators College (IIPCIC) with a mission to deliver world-class IP education to law enforcement agencies and other stakeholders around the world. This initiative helps law enforcement officials effectively communicate and cooperate in the fight against counterfeiting and IP crimes. The college is delivered on a multilingual platform and offers IP related courses in English, Spanish, French, Arabic, Mandarin and Portuguese to over 12,500 learners that represent 454 global organizations from 144 countries.
“We launched a new curriculum this year, specifically for global customs officers, that will provide information and case studies on their role securing supply chains and encouraging transnational cooperation between agencies,” Brown said. “IIPCIC also provides a platform for rights holders to deliver customized e-Learning courses to the approximately 11,000 law enforcement and customs officials who are registered on the IIPCIC platform.”
Each year, the U.S. Department of Justice awards money to various agencies that apply for an intellectual property theft grant. The money allows the receiving agencies to focus on combating counterfeiting. UL makes it a priority each year to engage the relevant agencies and educate them on current trends and anti-counterfeiting measures as they relate to UL.
What are best practices for combating IP crime?
According to Brown, dedicate an internal team to identifying, investigating and taking appropriate action against IP infringements. “This may not be possible for some companies with budget constraints but they can collaborate with outside counsel, investigators, law enforcement and others to build up their brand protection capabilities,” he said.
Additionally, it is essential to educate and train law enforcement on your brand if you want them to be able to spot fakes. At UL, they train customs and other government agencies around the world on how to differentiate real vs. counterfeit UL marks. Their investigation team is led by former law enforcement officers, all of whom have specialized experience in investigating and prosecuting counterfeiting offenses.
“Brand owners also need to consider all the options available in a particular case, such as working with customs to prevent counterfeit products from entering the stream of commerce, assisting law enforcement in pursuing a criminal case, and/or filing an independent civil action against a counterfeiter,” he explained.
And finally, according to Brown, brand owners should take advantage of the many resources available for networking and sharing best practices with other brand owners, government agencies and third-party services provides for fighting counterfeiting and other IP crime, such as the International IP Crime Conference, the International Trademark Association and the International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition.