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Is the UK still a world leader in tackling intellectual property crime?

01 September 2020

IPSix years ago, the UK was considered a world leader in protecting intellectual property rights, but has it kept pace with modern day counterfeiting and organised crime? Many experts believe it hasn’t and that the UK is in fact, falling behind other countries.

“The UK’s number one accolade was largely thanks to the work of the Intellectual Property Office. It put effective and strong measures in place for IP (intellectual property) protection and enforcement” commented Phil Lewis, Director General at the Anti-Counterfeiting Group (ACG), the UK’s leading anti-counterfeiting organisation.

“But there’s a growing call for government accountability and transparency. The UK urgently needs safeguards that will protect businesses and consumers and the only way to shape those is by engaging with all relevant stakeholders. Other countries have done this and that’s why they’re overtaking the UK” Lewis continued.

In the US there have been a series of announcements which clearly demonstrate President Trump’s desire to tackle counterfeiting. In April, he issued a Memorandum on Combating Trafficking in Counterfeit and Pirated Goods and prompted the US Department for Homeland Security, responsible for public security to produce a plan to stop counterfeiting at source and involve private-sector stakeholders.
Later in July, further US legislation was introduced to fight the online sale of stolen, counterfeit and dangerous consumer products. The Integrity, Notification, and Fairness in Online Retail Marketplaces for Consumers (INFORM) Act directs online platforms to authenticate the identity of their third-party sellers of consumer products. This legislation will enable consumers to distinguish genuine retailers more easily from fraudsters and prevent organised retail crime operations.

In addition, US Customs and Border Protection are introducing new rules that forces foreign importers to provide key information that will assist the enforcement agency in identifying shipments of counterfeit goods.

These safeguards are necessary because the growth of e-commerce is providing counterfeiters with a greater opportunity to sell unsafe and unregulated products to businesses and consumers. The global trade in fake goods continues to grow (estimated at over $5 billion) as the criminals seek to make huge profits that help to fund organised criminal activities.

“The INFORM Consumers Act will provide much needed transparency of online marketplaces,” said TRACIT Director General Jeffrey Hardy. “If platforms like Amazon and eBay start improving the verification of third-party sellers, then they’ll be taking a giant step in protecting consumers from fraud, counterfeiting and other forms of illicit trade.”
A similar move has been made by the European Union, who are forging ahead of the UK with a Digital Services Act drafted by the European Commission. Its aim is to compel social media and other platforms to remove illegal content or face the threat of sanctions. E-commerce platforms will be directed to introduce more proactive screening, to prevent the sale of counterfeit goods. The Act will be the first in the world to oversee content on digital platforms and the legislation may be established as early as the end of the year.

“The Digital Services Act is the perfect opportunity to lay out a clear legal framework so that platforms in Europe play their fair part in addressing the issue of illegal products sold online” commented Michelle Gibbons, Director General of AIM, the European Brands Association. “Too many consumers are being scammed, too many businesses face the effects of unfair competition by non-compliant products, too much is lost in tax revenue. It’s time for everyone to step up and take responsibility for taking these goods off the European market.”

“UK Government hasn’t been idle. It has introduced several policy initiatives to improve the protection of consumers, business and the economy from the impact of counterfeiting” explained Lewis.

“But unlike the US Government which sees integration with all business sectors as paramount, the UK has blocked brands and designers from participating in key programs and failed to fully acknowledge the growing threat to consumers and business from unsafe counterfeit goods. For example, the Government’s delayed Online Harms Bill, which focuses on the protection, safety and well-being of individual users, has excluded the online sale of dangerous fakes.”

Brands and designers contribute 39% to UK employment and 26% of the overall GDP and yet they have been excluded from almost every aspect of the Creative Industries: Sector Deal round table initiative, which is considering new Codes of Practice for social media and online marketplaces.

“These initiatives could potentially restore the UK’s position as the top country for IP protection and enforcement, but we still need a collaborative national response to counterfeiting which is an insidious and growing threat. Now we look to be falling behind” said Dids Macdonald OBE, Chief Executive of ACID (Anti Copying In Design) Ltd.

The overall concern is that, if the UK government continually fails to recognise the opportunities that e-commerce has given counterfeiters and it then continues to restrict the prospect of brands and designers contributing to develop cohesive strategies, it will not only fail to rebuild the UK economy but will open itself up to new threats.

About ACG

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.

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