Commerce Department Enlists Consumers in the Fight against Fakes
A consumer awareness campaign launched in April asks the public to think twice about the consequences of counterfeiting and piracy, and it provides steps to keep fakes off the shelves and out of our homes and businesses.
by Amanda D. Wilson
A campaign to increase consumer awareness of the damage that fake products and violations of intellectual property rights (IPR) can cause U.S. consumers and the economy in general was launched on April 11, 2007, at an event held at the U.S. Department of Commerce in Washington, D.C.
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|Jean-David Levitte, ambassador of France to the United States (fourth from left), at the Commerce Department on April 11, 2007, with an exhibit of materials prepared for the French government’s “Counterfeiting, No Thanks” campaign. (U.S. Department of Commerce photo)
David Bohigian, assistant secretary for market access and compliance in the International Trade Administration, joined a group of six government officials and private-sector representatives to deliver the message that consumers have a role in the fight against counterfeiting and piracy. The organizations that were represented include France’s National Institute for Intellectual Property, the U.S. Department of Commerce, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Among the speakers were Jon Dudas, director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and Jean-David Levitte, ambassador of France to the United States. A panel of distinguished speakers described the risks posed to consumer safety and the U.S. economy.
Piracy Not a Victimless Crime
According to industry reports, counterfeiting and piracy cost the U.S. economy between $200 billion and $250 billion per year, and they are responsible for the loss of 750,000 American jobs. Every product in every industry is vulnerable, from everyday household items (such as DVDs, CDs, sunscreen, and prescription drugs) to mechanical goods (such as batteries, car parts, and electrical equipment). Since the early 1990s, trade in counterfeits has grown at eight times the rate of legitimate trade. Counterfeit-related seizures by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection rose 80 percent from 2005 to 2006 alone.
Once viewed as a victimless crime, the sale of these defective and dangerous goods is now recognized in the international trade community as having far-reaching consequences for lives and for the economy. Both the U.S. government and private industry have stepped up the protection and enforcement of IPR by streamlining the supply chain, educating businesses about their rights, and putting increased pressure on governments that turn a blind eye to this illicit trade. Experts recognize, however, that as long as there is demand for fake products, organized counterfeiters and pirates will find a way to supply them.
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|An exhibit at the Commerce Department event launching a consumer awareness campaign against counterfeiting and piracy on April 11, 2007, showed examples of counterfeit consumer goods, including shoes, handbags, batteries, and other consumer items. (U.S. Department of Commerce photo)
U.S. Government Teams Up to Protect Consumer Safety
Thomas Hill Moore, commissioner of the CPSC and a participant in the April panel, addressed the risk posed to consumers by counterfeit and pirated goods. “Counterfeit products are sold at discounted prices, but for consumers looking to save a couple dollars, that discount could be a disaster,” Moore explained. “These products may falsely bear the brand of a reputable company or the label of a respected testing laboratory, or both.”
Moore highlighted the first collaboration on counterfeiting between the CPSC and U.S. intellectual property agencies. He noted that in recent years, the CPSC has recalled more than 1 million counterfeit products.
The CPSC also routinely works with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to identify and stop the import of unsafe products at U.S. ports. CPSC officials report that half of the unsafe products that the commission recalls originate from China. In an effort to improve the safety of products being exported to the United States from China, the CPSC in April 2004 signed a memorandum of understanding with its Chinese counterpart, the General Administration for Quality Supervision Inspection and Quarantine. On May 21–22, 2007, Nancy A. Nord, acting chairman of the CPSC, traveled to Beijing to participate in bilateral talks that are a part of the agency’s continuing efforts in this area.
The International Trade Administration is working closely with the CPSC to ensure that the consumers and businesses that fall victim to trade in counterfeit goods can benefit from shared information about dangerous products entering the market.
STOP! Activities Detailed
Chris Israel, national intellectual property enforcement coordinator, and Caroline Joiner, executive director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Anti-Counterfeiting and Piracy Initiative, represented government and industry experiences with the Bush administration’s Strategy Targeting Organized Piracy (STOP!). They illustrated to the April 11 event’s audience a side of counterfeiting that consumers often overlook.
Israel gave examples of counterfeiters and pirates who deal in seemingly innocuous products but are found to have links to drug trafficking, arms trafficking, illegal immigration, and terrorism. “Counterfeiting networks can be seen as a mass production industry,” said Israel. “Factories in developing regions are using leading-edge technology to manufacture fake products.”
Joiner presented staggering figures of the blow dealt by counterfeiting and piracy to the U.S. economy. The U.S. auto industry has lost $3 billion to fake auto parts; U.S. pharmaceutical companies face losses of $32 billion a year; and the appearance of pirated DVDs before movies have even reached theaters results in more than $800 million in lost tax revenue. Each of those dollar figures has corresponding consequences for the country’s ability to maintain or create new jobs. Small businesses face perhaps the toughest challenge, because one counterfeiter can be devastating to a company trying to grow or just maintain an established clientele.
French Efforts Exhibited
The program also showcased the Department of Commerce’s partnership with France’s National Intellectual Property Institute, which provided an exhibit of the consumer awareness campaign it recently launched in France, “Counterfeiting, No Thanks.”
Amanda D. Wilson is an international trade specialist in the Department of Commerce’s Office of Intellectual Property Rights.