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Roundup: Officials press for urgent approach to crack down on counterfeit goods


  Officials from Europe and the United States on Tuesday called for urgent action worldwide to effectively crack down on the multibillion illicit businesses of counterfeit and pirated goods.

  They said the scope of these illegal activities was expected to increase further, partly also due to the growing use of Internet as a key enabler for illicit trade, during a two-day conference to mark the launch of a new Intellectual Property Crime Coordinated Coalition (IPC3) within Europol, the EU law enforcement agency based in The Hague.

  "Intellectual property crime is a global play. No single agency or organization can hope to tackle it on its own," said Antonio Campinos, executive director of the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO), the EU agency set to provide intellectual property protection in the bloc's member states.

  The EUIPO chief specifically called for a "coordinated coalition" among all players involved to effectively combat infringements of intellectual property rights.

  "Cooperation between intellectual property offices and all law enforcement and business community actors plays a crucial role in effectively fighting against these illegal activities," he said at the beginning of the conference.

  The alarming increase in counterfeit purchases online, coupled with the results of a new EUIPO report showing that online business models infringing Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) are thriving, have led the EUIPO and the Europol to join forces to strengthen the fight against counterfeiting and piracy online and offline, Campinos explained.

  "This shadow landscape thrives on the misuse of IPR belonging to others, and is often built on domain names and other digital identifies," the EUIPO chief told experts from several EU organizations and law enforcement authorities as well as U.S. officers convening in The Hague to attend the conference.

  Europol's director Rob Wainwright agreed that infringements of IPR are a big and increasing business representing a clear threat to consumers, citizens and companies throughout EU and worldwide.

  "The criminal networks involved in offences of intellectual property crimes expand beyond EU borders. They are also linked to other serious forms of criminality such as human trafficking, money laundering and cyber crime," he said.

  "The launch of the IPC3 coalition comes at a key time when EU and U.S. are adopting and putting into use measures and strategies to more effectively respond to the criminal exploitation of intellectual property rights," said Danny Marti, the U.S. Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator.

  Marti specifically referred to the "differences among national regulatory regimes and gaps among the global economic, finance and transportation systems" as key factors fuelling growth in illicit trade and called for "a coordinated global approach."

  "It is imperative that governments adopt effective measures to address these threats," Marti stressed, pointing out the need of a highly specialised and coordinated approach. "The biggest challenge is a lack of coordinated global response. We need to coordinate with one another and share appropriate information."

  According to the U.S. IPR chief, profits generated by the unlawful use of IPR are used to finance other criminal activities such as drug trafficking, money laundering, bribery, people smuggling and even terrorism, which pose increasing threats to national security.

  International trade in counterfeit products represents up to 2.5 percent of world trade, or as much as 338 billion euros (374 billion U.S. dollars), according to Wainwright.

  This is the equivalent of the GDP of Austria or the combined GDP of Ireland and the Czech Republic. The impact of counterfeiting is particularly heavy in the EU with counterfeits and pirated products amounting to up to 5 percent of imports, representing a value of 85 billion euros.

  "IPR infringements negatively impact the revenues of the affected businesses and produce adverse social and economic effects that result in thousands of job losses," said Wainwright, underlining that about 39 percent of the EU's total economic activity is generated by IPR-intensive industries, providing 26 percent of the bloc's employment.

  They increasingly cause serious harm to the health and safety of consumers as counterfeit products are produced without regard to the health and safety standards applicable within the EU market, the Europol chief added.

  "Recent cases notified to the Europol by EU member states include medical and dental equipment and airbags," he said. "In particular the online distribution of counterfeit medicines and medical devices has been growing over the past years."

  His concern is shared by Marti, who said that intellectual-property-based crimes subject consumers to "unacceptable risks to their health and safety."

  The newly-established IPC3, with an annual budget of 500,000 euros, will provide operational and technical support to law enforcement agencies and other partners in the EU and other areas worldwide by facilitating and coordinating cross-border investigations, monitoring and reporting online crime trends and emerging modus operandi, according to the officials.

  It is also expected to enhance the harmonization and standardization of legal instruments, as well as operating procedures, to counter intellectual property crimes globally, and reach out to the public and law enforcement by raising awareness and providing training on this specific field of expertise.

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