Counterfeiters and pirates thwart economic development, endanger health and safety, and undermine innovation and creativity. Their methods are sophisticated, their impact is widespread and their crimes claim victims daily. While luxury goods’ producers have been the traditional targets of counterfeiters, today, industries as diverse as entertainment, cosmetics, foodstuffs, electronics, auto parts and most alarmingly, medicines, are under threat.
The list of counterfeit products is long, and has included fake baby shampoo containing E-coli bacteria, batteries that explode, defective auto parts, electrical appliances that catch fire and antibiotics made of talcum powder or worse still, toxic substances. The scourge of counterfeiting and piracy has assumed epidemic proportions and strong countermeasures are essential.
While counterfeiting and piracy represent direct losses to individuals and companies who innovate and develop original products, their impact reverberates throughout the global economy.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) data based on customs seizures suggest that trade in counterfeit and pirated goods across national borders alone may have totalled around $200 billion (Dh734bn) in 2005.
If digital piracy and other violations of intellectual property (IP) rights were included, this figure could rise by an additional several hundred billion dollars. The economic damage to legitimate business and trade hurts national economies, translates into lost opportunities for innovation, lost earnings, lost jobs, lost tax revenues – and a weakening of state-funded services. Added to these economic costs, the social impact of the proliferation of fake products is alarming. These products can kill and maim. Increasing illegal trade in fake foodstuffs and pharmaceuticals is particularly disturbing.
The global scale and sophistication of counterfeiting operations call for a pragmatic approach that plays to the strengths of all actors engaged in combating them. The Fourth Global Congress on Counterfeiting and Piracy to be held in Dubai will help reinforce the networks and harness the collective expertise necessary to develop durable solutions to these all-pervasive problems.
The World Intellectual Property Organisation (Wipo) is aware of the challenges of fighting counterfeiting and piracy and is at the forefront of international efforts to raise awareness about the need for strong and effective IP systems. National leaders and policy-makers in all regions are recognising that their economies, and above all their people, have much to gain from a strong, equitable and accessible system of IP protection.
The growing importance of IP as a driver of economic development and wealth creation together with the escalating trade in counterfeit and pirated goods has focused attention on the need for effective enforcement of IP rights a prerequisite in combating IP theft.
Wipo supports its 184 member states in establishing IP systems that enable countries to both harness their creative resources and combat IP crime. The price we have to pay for the illegal trade in fake goods is far too high and next month’s gathering is an opportunity to drive this message home and to enhance co-operation. These are not victimless crimes. We all have a shared responsibility to tackle this global threat. The challenge is great, but together we can make a difference.
(Kamil Idris is the Director-General of The World Intellectual Property Organisation)