WASHINGTON — Federal agencies are stepping up efforts to crack down on counterfeit goods.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Monday it had seized more than $260 million of counterfeit apparel, accessories and other goods in April. It was a record month for counterfeit enforcement, said John Morton, assistant secretary of Homeland Security for ICE.
Also on Monday, the Justice Department appointed 15 new assistant U.S. attorneys dedicated to fighting intellectual property crimes in the U.S. and internationally. The agency also said it increased the number of FBI agents focused on intellectual property rights to 51 from 31. The new agents will join existing intellectual property squads in New York, San Francisco, Washington and Los Angeles.
Monday was the 10th anniversary of World Intellectual Property Day. Founded by the World Intellectual Property Organization, it is aimed at outreach and education about fighting counterfeits and fakes.
At a press conference discussing the ICE operations, Morton said, “The numbers you see in today’s announcement reflect not only the seriousness of the problem [with counterfeits] but the intensity with which we’re investigating and prosecuting. Counterfeiting and piracy are not a victimless crime. It’s not a mom-and-pop effort. It’s theft on a global scale.”
Fake accessories and apparel comprised a substantial portion of a $44 million ICE seizure in April, dubbed “Operation Spring Cleaning,” that spanned 33 cities.
Clothing and accessories were also a big slice of ICE’s seizure of an additional $219 million of fake goods in April as part of a long-running investigation and prosecution of an international counterfeit ring with ties in Baltimore, New York, London, Malaysia and China. In late March, federal officials indicted nine defendants and seized an estimated $33 million in counterfeit goods.
Counterfeit merchandise confiscated in the two busts included fake Nike, Coach, Rolex, Gucci, Polo Ralph Lauren, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Fendi, Cartier, Prada, Burberry, Christian Dior and Ed Hardy merchandise.
This Friday, the U.S. Trade Representative’s office will release its annual report card called the “Special 301” report that outlines which countries fail to offer adequate intellectual property protections.
“The United States has long been acknowledged as a global leader in fostering innovation and improvements in technology,” said Miriam Sapiro, the deputy USTR responsible for intellectual property and innovation on Monday. “However, this competitive advantage is eroded, along with the jobs it creates, in an environment where piracy, counterfeiting and other kinds of intellectual property theft continue unchecked.”
Sapiro delivered remarks at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce event releasing a study about the positive benefits of intellectual property on the U.S. economy. According to the chamber’s report, intellectual property-intensive businesses, defined as those that invest significantly in research and development, not only create jobs in the U.S., but they also pay their workers more, have higher productivity levels and export more to other countries.
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