EU vote boosts customs powers to seize counterfeit goods

Hands and EU mapThe European Parliament has voted in new intellectual property rights (IPR) regulations that will give customs sweeping new powers to intercept and destroy counterfeit goods.

The regulation was voted in without amendment on Tuesday - setting it up to enter into force on January 1, 2014 - and replaces the current legislation which was adopted in 2004.

Among the highlights of the new regulations, customs officers will now be able to destroy counterfeit goods without legal proceedings, providing the brand holder and person buying the goods agree. And for the first time small shipments sent in the mail will be covered.

That is seen as critically important as there has been a huge increase in small consignments of counterfeit goods in recent years on the back of the rise of consumer purchasing on the Internet.

All told, pirated and counterfeit products are estimated to cost European businesses €250bn a year, with some - such as medicines, foods and beverages, cosmetics and toys - posing a serious risk to public health and safety.

Customs officers also gain stronger powers to seize goods bearing the trademarks - or close copies - of branded products.

The overall intention is to prevent counterfeits from ever entering the EU customs territory if possible, bolstering the wording of the earlier regulation which focused on preventing them being placed on the market, says a briefing document on the new regulation.

"Customs officials are in a particularly good position to seize and destroy fake products before they are spread all over the EU," said European Parliament member Juergen Creutzmann of Germany, who shepherded the new rules through parliament. "Thanks to this regulation, customs can do their job quicker and more effectively," he added.

Generic medicines

The regulation also draws a line under the controversy surrounding the seizure of generic medicines in transit through the EU, which has been played out at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) over the last few years.

The issue came to a head a few years ago when customs officers seized generic medicines made in India that were en route through the EU to final destinations in Latin America and Africa. The drugs in question were under patent in Europe but not in their countries of origin or destination.

Under the new rules, EU customs officials will no longer be entitled to intercept and seize shipments of generic pharmaceuticals in transit through the EU simply on the grounds of an existing EU patent, and will only be permitted to do so when there is a concrete risk of diversion into the internal market.

"Customs' unique position at the border plays a crucial role in stopping pirated goods from reaching the EU market," commented Algirdas Semeta, Commissioner responsible for taxation and customs union, audit and anti-fraud.

"Today's vote sets the gold standard at international level in IPR protection by customs and safeguards the competitiveness of EU businesses for years to come," he added.

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