By  on February 2, 2007

NEW YORK — Consumer education and public/private cooperation are essential to effectively combat counterfeiting, experts at the Harper’s Bazaar Anticounterfeiting Summit 2007 said Thursday.

And anyone who considers the traffic in counterfeit goods to be a “victimless crime” should be aware of connections between counterfeit goods and terrorist organizations, said New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, the keynote speaker.

“What enterprise is being funded when you buy a fake Gucci?” he asked.

The best tools at the disposal of those engaged in fighting counterfeit goods in all sectors are information sharing and interdisciplinary efforts, Kelly stressed.

In the last two years, the organized crime unit dedicated to intellectual property crimes in New York City has seized goods worth more than $18 million at street value, and that’s a conservative estimate, Kelly said. In its intellectual property efforts, the city also has issued 6,000 summonses, made 700 felony arrests and shut down 75 establishments in collaboration with the mayor’s Midtown task force.

The availability and sophistication of counterfeit goods has made it increasingly imperative that consumers understand the impact of buying them, industry experts said.

“If the buyers of fake luxury products knew and understood where their money was going, no one would buy fakes….The problem is they don’t,” said Valerie Salembier, senior vice president/publisher of Harpers Bazaar and chair of the board of trustees for the New York City Police Foundation, which provides funding for undercover anticounterfeiting investigations, among other things.

Public education, corporate protection of assets and public/private cooperation go hand in hand toward fighting counterfeits, said Alan Drewsen, executive director of the International Trademark Association.

Current U.S. anticounterfeiting laws aren’t enough by themselves to stop the trafficking of counterfeits, said Alain Coblence, an attorney working with the Council of Fashion Designers of America. Coblence spoke about the Design Piracy Act currently before Congress, which seeks to extend copyright protections to fashion designs for a period of three years. Design piracy and counterfeiting go hand in hand, he said: One is counterfeiting the trademark of an item, the other counterfeits the shape.

“Design piracy is mortal to the [fashion] industry,” Coblence said. “The United States is the weak link, the Trojan horse of design piracy in the industrialized world.”Sigal Mandelker, deputy assistant attorney general in the U.S. Department of Justice Criminal Division, said intellectual property rights cost the country an estimated $250 billion a year. “The attorney general has made prosecuting intellectual property cases one of our top priorities,” she said. The department now has more than 200 federal prosecutors dedicated to these types of cases and has placed dedicated personnel throughout the world, she said.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office also has started posting dedicated intellectual property attachés abroad, said Stephen Pinkos, deputy under the secretary of commerce for intellectual property and deputy director of the USPTO. There are now dedicated intellectual property experts in China, Brazil, India, the Middle East, Western Europe, Southeast Asia and soon, Eastern Europe. The move was made to help the organization work effectively with and on behalf of businesses who face problems abroad.

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