Panel discussion addresses counterfeit products

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Experts from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Eaton Corp. and Pfizer Inc. on Thursday, June 23, participated in a panel discussion at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., to raise awareness of the growing threat that counterfeit products pose to public health and safety as well as the U.S. economy. The panel also explored ways to enhance government and industry collaboration, including federal legislation.

The panelists included William G. Ross, unit chief, National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center) – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), U.S. Department of Homeland Security; Patrick Ford, senior director, Americas Region – Pfizer Inc.; Tom Grace, manager, anti-counterfeiting and brand protection – Eaton Corp.; and Kevin McLean, senior vice president, Global Marketing – Eaton Corp.

“The protection of intellectual property is a top priority for Homeland Security Investigations, as counterfeit products represent a triple threat by delivering shoddy, often dangerous goods into commerce, by funding organized criminal activities and by denying Americans good-paying jobs,” Ross says. “The IPR Center will continue to work closely with our industry partners in order to raise public awareness of the severe threats from counterfeit goods.”

The industry panelists voiced their support for measures that would enhance collaboration between federal law enforcement and industry, such as legislation that would give federal law enforcement agencies the authority to notify rights holders of potential counterfeits before officials seize those goods; current law prevents such information sharing prior to seizures.

“We strongly support measures that will pave the way toward more effective industry and government collaboration on detection and enforcement,” McLean says. “The problem is complex, and we need to address it meaningfully before it gets worse.”

HSI investigated nearly 2,000 intellectual property cases last fiscal year, which resulted in 365 arrests, 216 indictments and 170 convictions. HSI and U.S. Customs and Border Protection also made 19,959 IPR seizures topping $1.4 billion manufacturer’s suggested retail in fiscal year 2010, a 34 percent increase from the previous fiscal year.

June is National Safety Month, and the panel discussion focused on specific threats posed by counterfeit pharmaceuticals and electrical products, which DHS classifies as “safety and security items.” Safety and security items accounted for $32.4 million, or 13 percent, of the dollar value of DHS-seized property in that category.