The European Commission has the trade in counterfeit and pirated goods – which it says account for 5 per cent of all goods traded in the EU – in its sights.
Brussels plans to draw up a watch list of countries that engage in or facilitate the trade in intellectual property rights (IPR) infringing goods – akin to what the US does with its Special 301 report on ‘notorious markets’ – and also intends to boost international cooperation with countries in other parts of the world. The aim is to disrupt illicit trade worth a massive £85bn a year.
The latest situation report from the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) and Europol says that China is the number one country of provenance for counterfeit goods, accounting for almost three quarters (72 per cent) of all fakes in circulation in the EU, US and Japan, along with Hong Kong, Turkey, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia.
Introducing the plans, Jyrki Katainen, Commission vice president responsible for jobs, growth investment and competitiveness, said: “Europe's economic growth and competitiveness largely depends on our many entrepreneurs – from start-ups to large companies – investing in new ideas and knowledge.”
“The comprehensive package we are presenting today improves the application and enforcement of intellectual property rights and encourages investment in technology and product development in Europe."
The proposals are part of a broader initiative aimed at protecting IPR generated by EU companies, that also seeks to make sure the EU’s judicial framework on IP – enshrined in the 2004 Directive on the enforcement of intellectual property rights (IPRED) – is deployed consistently among all member states.
New guidance clarifies these IPRED interpretation issues, claims the EC, and will “increase legal certainty for all stakeholders and facilitate civil enforcement across the EU straight away”, without the need for new legislation. It wants member states to step up their efforts by boosting judicial training, systematically publishing judgements on IP cases and encouraging alternative dispute resolution tools.
The assertion that no changes to legislation are forthcoming will not please some sections of industry. The EC has been accused of failing to take a tough enough stance on this issue, with the former director general of the European Brands Association (AIM), Alain Gaski, asking Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in June to “dust off without delay” the IPRED Directive and reform it to ensure that it is fit for purpose.
Those comments followed European Parliament calls for online platforms to fight more effective against counterfeits and collaborate more intensively with brand owners, with the AIM calling instead for legislative reforms to help tackle the problem and calling EC’s IP package a “missed opportunity” to create a binding incentive for all actors to join forces in the fight against counterfeiting.
New AIM director-general Michelle Gibbons said earlier this month that “unless the legislative framework to protect European innovation and creativity is modernised and strengthened, counterfeiting will continue to expand dramatically, as will negative impacts for the health and safety of European consumers and the European economy.”
The AIM sent a letter to Juncker from more than 80 companies and 16 European and national and international trade associations to argue that the package will not strengthen the existing framework and will not prevent counterfeiting on online and offline markets.
Instead, it would like to see be “legally binding provisions applicable to all actors in the value chain and ensuring the implementation of proactive measures against counterfeiting.”