Pirated. Fake. Knockoffs.
Shakespeare once said that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. And so are counterfeits.
Counterfeit products can be found in a large and growing number of industries, including as common consumer goods, (footwear, cosmetics, toys), business-to-business products (spare parts or chemicals), information technology goods (phones, batteries) and luxury items (fashion apparel, deluxe watches). Importantly, many fake goods, particularly pharmaceuticals, food and drink, and medical equipment, can pose serious negative health and safety risks. Counterfeit goods are particularly damaging to the reputations of genuine brands. In addition, they also lead to injuries or worse, death to unwitting consumers.
The illicit trade of counterfeit goods has been a perennial economic problem for varying industries worldwide. Last year, The Visual Capitalist published an article stating that counterfeiting has been causing damage to the global economy at a whopping amount of Three Hundred Twenty Three Billion Dollars (US$323 Billion323 ).
The European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) meanwhile, released a study stating that trade in counterfeit and pirated goods has risen steadily in the last few years – even as overall trade volumes stagnated – and now stands at 3.3% of global trade.
While counterfeit and pirated goods originate from virtually all economies in all continents, China and Hong Kong, China continue to be by far the biggest origin.
The companies suffering from counterfeiting and piracy continue to be primarily registered in OECD countries; mainly in the United States, France, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Japan, Korea, and the United Kingdom. However, a growing number of companies registered in high-income non-member economies, such as Singapore and Hong-Kong, China, are becoming targets. In addition, a rising number of rights holders threatened by counterfeiting are registered in Brazil, China, and other emerging economies. Counterfeiting and piracy thus present a critical risk for all innovative companies that rely on IP to support their business strategies, no matter where they are located.
Then came the pandemic.
The year 2020 was marred by the Coronavirus and the World Health Organization (WHO) was quick to declare the COVID-19 outbreak a global pandemic in March. One by one, states declared lockdowns and quarantine measures as the response. However, while the rest of the world were quarantined in lockdowns, the Coronavirus pandemic has swiftly created a new trend in counterfeiting.
Along with the surge of demand in medical products used to combat COVID-19, counterfeit medical products also came in an uptick spark. Counterfeit facemasks, substandard hand sanitizers, and unauthorized antiviral medication were some of the counterfeit products seized by law enforcement authorities in different parts of the world. Suddenly, criminals came shamelessly cashing in on the COVID-19 pandemic.
Such counterfeiting trend amidst a global pandemic prompted customs and health regulatory authorities from 90 countries to take part in collective action against the illicit online sale of medicines and medical products dubbed as “Operation Pangea”. The INTERPOL reported that law enforcement agencies taking part in Operation Pangea found 2,000 online links advertising items related to COVID-19. Of these, counterfeit surgical masks were the medical device most commonly sold online, accounting for around 600 cases during the week of action.
The seizure of more than 34,000 counterfeit and substandard masks, “corona spray”, “coronavirus packages” or “coronavirus medicine” reveals only the tip of the iceberg regarding this new trend in counterfeiting.
Clearly, counterfeiting is a resilient trade. It does not respect crises even a global pandemic. Worse, by shifting to medical products, the risk brought about by the illicit trade could directly damage the health of the populace in a magnitude we never have seen before.