Tuesday 14 July 2020
Counterfeit is not a Trend
I was recently asked to comment on the role of internet ”influencers”. In short, these are often celebrities and renowned people who use online channels to guide consumers’ on buying decisions, through their knowledge, expertise, or simply through their relationships with fans and followers.
“Influencers” have the capability to engage huge numbers of passionate followers, through social media platforms. As a result, many major companies have become enthusiastic users of this marketing trend, using actors and sports stars to promote new products and services.
However, this is not solely the territory of superstars. A myriad of “micro influencers” also exist, who are simply everyday people who have become known for their knowledge about a specialist area. This can impact on as many as 40,000 followers on a single social media platform.
Most influencers care about the products and views they promote and the consumers they are in touch with. However, there is a rise in fake and reckless influencers, who use their position and the positions of others to promote bogus views and claims. Some of the most outrageous have been that 5G mobile phone networks have helped to spread COVID19 and that smoking, alcohol and sugars strengthen the immune system to fight the virus.
On top of this we are seeing reckless influencers touting counterfeit products, such as jewellery, mobile phones, makeup, alcohol and household appliances. Most of these goods are not only trash, that damage the reputation of legitimate companies’ businesses, but are increasingly dangerous.
Counterfeiters know that money is tighter because of the pandemic and that there will be greater demand and opportunities to sell counterfeit goods. They also know they can use social media influencers, who either have no knowledge or care that most of the fake products they promote will have been made using forced labour and that the profits will be used to boost other forms of crime, such as people trafficking, drugs and weapons.
We all need to be aware that international counterfeiters are out there looking for our hard-earned cash to further their criminal enterprises and they have no care for our welfare. On top of this local economies and legitimate shops are being hugely damaged and jobs will become even scarcer.
We need to be very watchful about what we buy and who we listen to.
Thursday 4 June 2020
Criminals flout lockdown rules by selling fakes in Cheetham Hill, Manchester
Despite lockdown restrictions on legitimate shops, and social distancing measures for the public, counterfeiting criminals are continuing their illicit trade in fake goods.
Over 50 outlets are, once again, openly selling counterfeit goods in a network of streets in Cheetham Hill, Manchester, directly opposite HMP Strangeways. Deeper investigations have also revealed that more fake and fabricated items, to fight the pandemic, are on the way into the country. Alongside this, latest range, of counterfeit junk, the criminals have also been stockpiling and storing in readiness for reduced crisis controls. Many of these fakes are inflammable and recklessly stored in premises in the area, which presents an immediate risk to consumers.
ACG members, Police and Trading Standards have been battling counterfeiting criminals in Cheetham Hill for years but despite their huge efforts UK businesses are still under attack. ACG has written to Priti Patel (Secretary of State for the Home Department) to highlight the current threats. We have also informed Andy Burnham (Mayor of Greater Manchester, Ian Hopkins the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, Keir Starmer and the Labour Policy Forum.
Despite the huge efforts and sacrifices that have been made by businesses and the public to help overcome the COVID19 crisis. Counterfeiters in Cheetham Hill have snubbed and flouted the rules, taking advantage to build and grow their illicit trade.
So, while businesses are fighting to keep themselves alive and consumers are looking for ways to keep themselves and their families safe, these callous criminals are once again profiting from a new opportunity to sell fake goods, which often feed other dangerous and serious crimes.
We are calling on all political leaders to take conclusive action to rid ourselves of this counterfeiting scourge. How we can expect to re-build our economy unless we finally deal with these criminals who are openly breaking the rules and destroying our prized businesses?
The answer so far, I am sorry to say, has been silence and the words “Too difficult box spring to mind”. We need political support for a multi-agency and cross-party task force to end this menace.
I wonder if the situation would be allowed to go on in other areas of the UK?
Write to your MP now and join the campaign.
Thursday 14 May 2020
As you know by now I have always felt that strong legislation is vital, but in reality it has never been enough to deter hardened criminals involved in intellectual property (IP) crime https://www.a-cg.org/useful_info/intellectual-property
Unfortunately, due to its global nature, no single body is going to crack the problem. So, it is no surprise that it is my continued belief that we are ‘stronger together’ and that ACG is constantly building on our successful national and international partnerships and collaborations to combat IP crime.
£15m of counterfeit goods seized by sharing resources
The work being done by ACG to build intelligence led operations has been about pooling our collective strengths and focusing our precious resources on key targets. As a result, it led to over £15m worth of counterfeit goods being removed from physical and online markets last year and is testimony to what can be achieved when we work together. We know that Trading Standards, Police and Border Force have all been working with competing priorities and diminished resources, so the intelligence that ACG members provides is a driving force for “real” public-private sector collaboration to tackle the organised criminals involved in product counterfeiting.
ACG successfully delivers virtual IP training to 60 officers
Equally important, is giving enforcers up to date knowledge and understanding about growing threats and trends associated with counterfeiting. Our Roadshows and training events underpin all of our operational efforts and I was delighted last week when our first online IP training event, for Trading Standards (TS) in the London region, took place. This was jointly organised by the ACG team and Sean Rovai of Tower Hamlets TS and it was a great success, attracting national and international speakers and over 60 attendees. As a result, we are now planning to work with Trading Standards to widen these types of events to cover authorities across the whole of the UK.
Exciting US collaboration
But cooperation doesn’t need to be a narrow objective. In March, I met with the White House Intellectual Property Executive Coordinator https://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/office-u-s-intellectual-property-enforcement-coordinator-ipec/
The IPEC team has recently been involved in an operation, which intensified collaboration between multiple US enforcement agencies and industry representatives to combat growing criminal activity surrounding the COVID-19. “Operation Stolen Promise” involved over 130 nationwide investigations and the seizure of over three million dollars in illicit proceeds. A clear example of what cross sector cooperation can achieve. https://www.ice.gov/news/releases/ice-hsi-launches-operation-stolen-promise
On the back of our own national efforts, I am delighted to say that the IPEC team has now stretched their hands across the Atlantic to invite ACG to work with them on joint initiatives. We are currently developing our proposals for international cooperation and we will be happy to include any suggestions from our members.
We know that collaboration takes energy and commitment, but we are stronger together and the potential rewards this can bring are crystal-clear.
To learn more about our successes in 2019 and latest news go to https://www.a-cg.org/newsdesk/latest-news/article/acg-launch-its-annual-report https://www.a-cg.org/newsdesk/latest-news
Thursday 30 April 2020
Boring!!!……but is it really
At this time of crisis, I felt that I should be writing about issues surrounding COVID19 and the things we are doing. But eventually we will be coming out of this dark time and I thought it might be worth turning to the future.
A key question is how we will be interacting with ecommerce platforms. The pandemic has already shown that consumers and business are becoming more interconnected with e-shopping and 60% are saying they will continue to buy online when the crisis is over.
So, ensuring e-commerce platforms and other technology companies will properly protect us will be crucial. The EU has realised the importance and has drafted a “Digital Services Act” (DSA), which aims to compel service providers to remove illegal content or face the threat of sanctions. The law will mean that social media and other platforms will be subject to mandatory “notice and take down” orders. This will force them to remove illegal content or face fines. Brussels policymakers say that the DSA would allow them to write specific rules for all parts of the sector, including Internet Service Providers (ISPs), search giants such as Google, cloud services and social media platforms such as Facebook. This legislation will be the first in the world to oversee content on digital platforms and the aim is to establish the Act at the end of 2020.
At ACG we have been engaging with partners in the EU, to support the Commission. However, we have asked for specific changes, including a requirement for proactive EU-wide measures to “prevent” offers of illegal goods to consumers and to detect the distribution of illegal goods.
We had hoped that the DSA would work alongside the UK’s Online Harms white paper to help protect intellectual property (IP). However, the Government has now dropped online fraud and IP violations from the current draft. We are working with partners including the Alliance for IP, Lord McNally, and the Carnegie Trust to try to change current thinking. In this way it will link with the EU’s intent on creating a world class digital service regime that protects all.
Finally, as we all know, online marketplaces and payment providers have crucial information and sharing data on illegal activity with law enforcement must be a duty of any legitimate business. This is a another point we will be really pushing. The EU has rightfully pointed to a digital world, which places people at its heart and all stakeholders must embrace this and accept that what is illegal offline should be illegal online.
Bearing in mind what’s happening now, in terms of online shopping, I think we have to grasp a genuine opportunity to make a difference for the future. But we need strong data and information on the harms that members face. If we can’t provide the “smoking gun” then I fear the UK will fall behind, to the detriment of our businesses and consumers. Please join in and let us have what you can.
Tuesday 14 April 2020
On 11 March the World Health Organisation announced that Coronavirus had officially been recognised as a global pandemic. From that moment there has been an unimaginable change in the way we live our lives. Within no time, we moved from taking care, to “wash our hands to avoid infection”, to travel bans, lockdowns and isolation to stop the spread of infection and protect our overloaded health and care services
During this time, many of our communities, families and friends have suffered devastating losses as a result of this insidious virus and it seems that there is much we still don’t know about the disease. So, it is natural that many people are fearful and are trying to find guidance and recommendations, from as many sources as possible, to help protect our families and friends. Unfortunately, what we are finding is that much of the information on the web and on social media turns out to be bogus.
In the midst of all this, many of our prized businesses are also in danger and are looking at how they can best protect their operations, products and assets. The threats are rising day by day but this time they are being added to by parasitic criminals who are working overtime, to profit from the situation, by manufacturing, marketing and selling counterfeits of every description. The ‘fakers’ are in production overdrive and as a result, our valued businesses are in danger of being devastated by losing market share to criminal enterprises.
The concern is that this will not stop, and they will continue to stockpile, so that even when we finally come out of this alarming time we may well be at the mercy of a veritable tidal wave of fake goods.
The question is whether this is the right time to suspend brand protection? The criminals know that government and enforcement are being diverted. Therefore, we will need to look to ourselves to ensure that counterfeiters are not given a free reign to devastate legal markets, revenue, growth and jobs.
ACG has continued to build its intelligence records and we are working with anti-counterfeiting associations across Europe and the US to raise greater awareness. Together we have been urging Governments to understand that the emergency response message should not simply be about ‘profiteering’. We need measures to help protect the public from fake, falsified and substandard medical products and medicines. But counterfeiters will not only be focusing on medical commodities they will be continuing to manufacture their usual products and stockpiling in readiness for the crisis to subside. So even if current sales of fakes fall off, they will be ready. The question is, are we?
ACG believes that there has never been a more important time to have people in place who can develop partnerships and strategies, tailored to meet current and future needs. Brand protection managers are a central pivot in this by structuring plans, identifying threats, supporting overstretched enforcement authorities and re-building business reputations and confidence.
Strong brand protection starts with effective IP protection strategies to make sure counterfeiters are continuously kept at bay. Brand protection managers are key in this and shelving brand protection, now, hands the advantage to the criminals and sends the wrong message to Government and enforcers.
Stay safe everyone.
Thursday 19 December 2019
Dear all, well another festive season is almost upon us and as UK shoppers chase down the best Christmas and New Year deals it gives me the chance to thank everyone in the ACG community for your wonderful support during the year.
I think we can all take a deep breath and agree that it’s been quite a year. A time in which, we have managed to achieve some hugely impressive results, despite an incessant growth in the trade in counterfeit goods and the continuous political and constitutional unrest, which has impacted on our precious enforcement resources. I am really indebted to all our members and of course to our small team for what you have done, together, to combat this insidious crimewave.
However, as 2019 ends it may also be a time to reflect on how big a challenge we are really up against and what we are likely to face next year?
Earlier this year the OECD and European Intellectual Property Office study offered us a clear portrait of the escalating threats, when they confirmed that the worldwide scope and scale of IP crime is now worth $509 billion and that almost 7% of all products imported into the EU are now counterfeit. What’s more is that 37% of these products were confirmed to be dangerous to consumers.
This study was followed up by a further report by the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) and the OECD, which established that the overall UK market in fake goods is now worth £13.6 billion. These most recent results also highlighted that the total value of lost sales, as a result of counterfeits being smuggled into the UK, was over £9 billion. The result was over 60,000 job losses and a £4 billion reduction in UK public revenue.
I have always believed that ACG’s great strength has been our capacity to put differences aside and work together to fight this insidious menace in a far-reaching range of approaches. Here are just a few highlights of our joint successes.
In terms of raising awareness and building education, we have continued to deliver our IP Roadshows, to ensure the widest range of enforcers have the benefit of our members’ expertise and experiences. We have added to this by the introduction of specific training workshops, on brand protection and intelligence management. All have been highly regarded and helped lead us to being invited to become a member of the Home Office Economic Crime Strategic Board. As a result, we had significant input into the United Nations Inter-Regional Crime institute’s strategy on combating transnational crime.
Knowledge building is a key aim for ACG and we have regularly presented and raised awareness at major international summits, universities and high level events, including our own Anti-Illicit Trade workshop, and the UK IPR Protection Summit, which we co-hosted together with the IPO and the Alibaba Group. Besides this, we have increased our media presence and have contributed to numerous high-level initiatives and studies. We have also concentrated on further developing our connections with UK, European and international associations. These will be vital as we leave the EU, as will our growing global partnerships which include; new alliances with the major EU anti-counterfeiting groups, TRACIT and ACACAP. At home our growing involvement in the UK’s National Consumer Federation’s enforcement group, numerous All-Party Parliamentary Groups and the Road Haulage Security Forum is also helping to build wider approaches.
Our engagement work extends well above this short list and we will continue to build on these successes in 2020. However, our greatest visibility is naturally our intelligence led operational work, facilitated by Graham Mogg, ACG ‘s Intelligence Coordinator. Graham’s work with our members, Trading Standards, Border Force, Police and with the National Markets Group (NMG) has resulted in the disruption of some major organised crime gangs and the identification of real opportunities to mitigate the growing threats to our members’ brands. Well over 100 raids have been jointly carried out this year, which have netted over a quarter of a million counterfeit products, with a value in excess of £10,000,000. Furthermore, our work with Border Force on “intensification exercises” at major UK airports, have resulted in thousands of fake goods being detained at UK borders.
In effect, having Graham as Chair of the NMG means that our members are able to play a valuable role in preventing and halting the infiltration of both traditional and online markets and we will continue to support NMG in all aspects of their work.
So, in conclusion, I simply want to thank you, personally, for your continued support for everything you have done in 2019. Having such a committed membership is hugely appreciated by the team and the ACG Board. Our members are a tangible example of collaborative working and as a result we are able to support our treasured enforcement resources, whilst building even greater public awareness of the menace we face from criminals that have no conscience about the harm and devastation they bring to families, business, communities, and local and national economies.
Have a great Christmas and a very happy and successful New Year.
Wednesday 24th July 2019
Over the past year the ACG team has been concentrating more and more on ensuring we offer our members a wider and more balanced set of services. These services range from driving intelligence led, operational collaboration and support, to working with high level politicians, policy makers and enforcement decision takers to raise higher levels of consciousness about the growing dangers associated with counterfeiting.
Under Graham’s leadership, our intelligence coordination function has gone from strength to strength, with tremendous successes across the UK, including recent coordinated ACG raid actions alongside the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), and numerous operations, carried out across England and Wales, alongside Trading Standards, Border Force, ACG brand representatives and the National Markets Group (NMG). As a result of all this effort, we have extended our partnerships across borders and have even been contacted by CERN, (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) and UNICRI (the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute) to help with a new system aimed at tracking transnational criminal networks.
The truth is that none of this ‘on the ground’ work can be achieved without the constant build-up of a huge network of partners. In fact ACG’s great strength is being able to foster and work with a growing landscape of public and private sector allies, to develop common plans and goals. This often takes chains of meetings to simply raise awareness, but in many cases it also relies on old fashioned ‘lobbying’ to press and influence politicians and officials.
In reality, people often regard lobbying as being confrontational, but in my experience gaining strong government support relies, more heavily, on getting a well evidenced case across, to help identify compromise and then cooperation. Our operational work gives us a tangible narrative based on real evidence.
This has become ever clearer to me since I came into the Director General role. Political stances and priorities can change quickly; as can the politicians and civils servants you deal with. A one-time opponent can quickly become a partner. In lobbying, antagonising or alienating today’s contacts can often lead to enduring animosity, while negotiating win-win agreements very often lead to long-standing affiliations.
On this basis, the ACG team has been working hard to build our connections and networks in the UK, the EU and on the international landscape. We have been taking part in more and more high profile events, including our recent Anti Illicit Trade and Counterfeiting Workshop, which led to an output report and 12 point plan, which has been disseminated to key enforcement officials across the UK and the EU. As a result, I am meeting with the Ministerial Adviser on IP to ensure the UK firmly positions respect for intellectual property, brands and enforcement in all future trade agreements
From an enforcement angle, we have also been invited to join the Home Secretary’s Economic Crime Strategic Board and have been central in setting up a Strategy Group to look at how Border Force can develop its work to combat counterfeits arriving at our key airports. Moreover, in the past few months we have been playing a strong role on two key All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPG) related to IP and Electrical Safety.
As our connections have widened I’ve often felt that consumers have been a lost voice in our efforts to raise public awareness. To help overcome this gap I’ve been building a relationship with the National Consumer Federation (NCF). The aim being to help develop a more comprehensive approach to awareness raising to better protect consumers from the accelerating dangers associated with counterfeit goods. I’m delighted that Arnold Pindar the Director General of the NCF has warmed to this idea and will be joining me in a meeting with the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), which is developing a new research study on IP crime, including associated ties to other forms of transnational organised crime.
In November, we hold our Annual Conference in London and I am excited that high level representatives from UK Government, enforcement and the USA have signalled their agreement to attend and speak. This will not only give us a flavour of how UK anti-counterfeiting plans are progressing, but we will also have a clearer view of how President Trump’s strategy has developed on the back of his recent memorandum.
All in all I hope you will agree that our network is getting wider and more effective. I strongly believe that the broader and more collaborative it gets it will help us to find and develop more inclusive approaches to combat counterfeiting.
There’s no doubt that as we continue to build our connections with politicians and policy makers some of these will inevitably result in clashes and disagreements. But I’m sure that it is far more useful to build alliances than to try to browbeat potential partners.
The truth is we never know who we might need.
Thursday 5th May 2019
Hi all, when I took over from Alison last year (2018) I wrote a first blog explaining what I thought would be the key issues for us and how I intended to go about things.
First up, I clearly needed to take time to properly understand the whole ACG landscape in far more depth. After 9 months I thought I’d still be new; I didn’t realise I’d be such a novice!
One thing in my favour was that I wasn’t new to the Anti-Counterfeiting task and during the past 20 years I had come to believe that no single body could ever tackle this huge problem on its own. I still believe this and the fact that if we don’t develop more common aims and ways to allow private stakeholders to work together with public authorities we will still be fighting this problem in another 20 years.
Partnerships, of course, don’t always work; we know this and inevitably competing priorities will always exist. However, I believe ACG is really fortunate as we have some of the most dedicated and conscientious people I have ever worked with. I have the utmost respect for their longstanding enthusiasm and allegiance.
The problem we now face is that the enforcement landscape has changed considerably in past years. Unfortunately, it is much more multi-layered and complex nowadays. Moreover, the resources are simply not around anymore and as a result, enforcement authorities face continual challenges to do more with less. They are also under huge pressure trying to balance competing priorities.
So clearly, traditional strategies and what we expect and want as end results need to be re-thought. To get to an agreed position we need to concentrate even more effort on understanding and playing to each other’s’ strengths. This means we need to interact more effectively to better influence enforcement cooperation and collaboration.
In all this, I see the ACG as a primary ‘enabler’ in trying to ensure these precious resources have the right intelligence, training and support to allow them to make the right choices, when it comes to targeting the criminals involved in counterfeiting and piracy.
I believe this can only be achieved by working together to build an even greater understanding of where the risks, challenges and our combined strengths lie. Furthermore, we also need to better inform high-level policy makers and decision takers to better understand and accept the threats. This is particularly true as we move into a more uncertain trade environment. IP has to be at the forefront of future agreements. It has to receive full respect if we are to meet the forthcoming competition and challenges on the world trade stage.
If the UK is believed to be getting less respectful of IP I fear potential trade partners might lose confidence, which could result in the start of a race to the bottom in terms of protection and enforcement.
So what of the future of fighting fake goods in an uncertain world? There has never been a more important time to be part of collaborative partnerships fighting IP infringement as they provide the intelligence and front line defence against the counterfeiters, but there exists a clear and present danger of that intelligence and knowledge will become more difficult to share when we leave the EU.
The bottom line is that I will be aiming to concentrate our efforts on building and influencing partnerships and providing enforcement training and assistance so we will be in a position to share our intelligence, knowledge and expertise within the UK and further afield. In doing this I believe that we will be in a stronger position to help develop common right strategies and the right choices.
Monday 17th September 2018
Dear all, well here I am just over a month into the job.
As a new DG I thought I would make the usual start by trying to get a better understanding of how the ACG works and then trying to meet as many members and stakeholders as possible.
Acting as an adviser to ACG on strategy and government policy for four years, I’m clearly not new to the Group and it would have been easy to think I knew how the whole organisation works. However, I soon grasped how much I didn’t know! This was particularly true of the work of our Secretariat and our intelligence coordinator, Graham Mogg, and how they all interact with our members and stakeholders. Frankly, I have been blown away by the commitment and professionalism that this small team shows.
So I clearly needed to take time to properly understand the whole landscape in far more depth. That meant starting off as if I was completely new.
The one thing to my advantage is that I’m not new to anti-counterfeiting work. I’ve actually been involved for almost 20 years, both as senior policy adviser at the IP Office and then six years at the European Commission. During this time I realised that no single body could ever tackle this huge problem on its own. Partnerships are vital and for 14 years I tried my best to build structures that would allow public and private stakeholders to work together to develop common aims. Sometimes this worked and sometimes it didn’t, but generally the outcome was down to people and I was fortunate to have worked with some of the most dedicated and conscientious people in the world. Many are amongst our membership and our key stakeholders and I have the utmost respect for their longstanding enthusiasm and allegiance.
For now I’m working hard to understand and get to grips with a wide range of functions and jobs that I didn’t know existed. During this time I’ve met with one or two key stakeholders, namely Eddy Leviten of the Alliance for IP and Ros Lynch at the IPO. Both have a steadfast approach to building better collaboration and cooperation and I’m looking forward to working with them in the future.
From now on my big task will be meeting our members and primary stakeholders who enable us to function and then working with you all to build what I hope will be truly lasting and effective relationships.
On some of our principle partners, we all realise that our enforcement authorities face continual challenges to do more with less. They are often under huge pressure trying to balance competing priorities. In this respect, I see the ACG as a primary ‘enabler’ in trying to ensure these precious resources have the right intelligence, training and support to allow them to make the right choices, when it comes to targeting the criminals involved in counterfeiting and piracy. I believe this can only be achieved by us working together to build an even greater understanding of where the risks, challenges and our combined strengths lie.
Clearly, we also need to better inform high level policy makers and decision takers to understand the threats. This is particularly true as we move into a more uncertain trade environment. IP has to be at the forefront of future agreements. It has to receive full respect if we are to meet the forthcoming competition and challenges on the world trade stage. If we are seen to be less than respectful of IP I fear potential partners might lose confidence in us or even begin a race to the bottom in terms of protection and enforcement.
The challenges lie ahead and I really look forward to meeting and working with you to protect businesses, consumers and the economy. If you are at the forthcoming Roadshow in Cheltenham or the Annual conference please stop me to say hello.
Before I end I really have to pay tribute to the work Alison Statham has carried out over the past 13 years. Alison has been the ACG stalwart supporting and then leading the organisation at times when the economy threatened budgets and counterfeiting grew to become an international menace. Throughout Alison was utterly reliable and unswerving.
ACG represents more than 3,000 brands affected by this influx of fakes into the UK and delivers an international network of information, advice and contacts on all aspects of IP protection. Working with Government and law enforcement agencies since 1980, ACG is focused on providing an effective and sustained response to counterfeiting.
Membership with the ACG is the best way to work with government and enforcement bodies to protect your brand. Our Roadshows and training days help you reach out to police, trading standards and border force officers and tell them about your genuine products.