Why chasing grandma to combat counterfeit is wrong

On April 19 and 20 Seoul, Korea hosted the International Conference on Customs Protection and Enforcement of IP. As the title suggests the main theme was the increasing number of counterfeited goods in the world market and the efforts of right holders and customs to combat these knock offs. On the menu were lots of presentations lamenting about an enhanced counterfeit industry, China and India being the great sources of counterfeit and Louis Vuitton bragging about their success in making new laws in Italy fining tourists coming back home with a counterfeit Vuitton bag. However, as is often the case with IP conferences on counterfeits, new ideas or innovative ideas were scarce, I would say absent). Mainly songs being sung for years, that counterfeit is on the rise, that customs needs to get even more officers to combat the increase in counterfeited products. No one denies that counterfeit is a serious problem. However, water flows to the lowest point: right owners seem to think that aiming the end-user of the counterfeited products is part of the solution. Fine the user or buyer of counterfeited goods. This tendency of right owners to take the easiest way – aim at the end of the production line, the consumer – is a dangerous one. Not only is it unfair to attack the old lady buying a Gucci bag on a popular market in Florence and fine here for 5,000 euro –a practice that is said to take place in France and Italy, initiated by the LVMH’s of this world – it further undermines the public’s trust in the working of intellectual property. IP is already under serious attack (pharmaceutical industry by failing to making expensive medicines available to countries in need using their IP to block such attempts, music industry associations serving thousands of court complaints writs against young downloaders of online music, anti IP feelings against rules protecting software solutions, you name it. In a time when many feel that IP is stifling innovation rather than promoting it, it’s a dangerous policy to go after the users of counterfeited goods. Why not concentrating on the transport sector, shipping companies that ship the counterfeited goods. That’s is more likely to give great success. Manufacturers in China may be difficult to trace and once traced, they disappear equally easy as they have been found. So one end of the production line, the manufacturers, is difficult, the other end –the consumer, is dangerous. So how to combat counterfeit? By setting up a compliance program together with the shipping industry. Taking the low margins for container handlers, a container with counterfeited goods that is being held in Rotterdam harbor upon entering the EU, is a headache and a financial burden for the shipping company. So they would be more than willing to think how to cooperate with right owners to fight where it is most effective: at the point of transport: e.g. Chinese harbors, points where goods are being shipped to the rest of the world. If right owners provide for the shipping companies means to easy detect and remove counterfeited products –and such techniques are widely available – combating counterfeit will become more successful and consumers do not need to be bothered.