The British government has unveiled a national strategy on fighting counterfeiters, with a special focus on intellectual property (IP).


LONDON -- The British government has unveiled a national strategy on fighting counterfeiters, with a special focus on intellectual property (IP).

Spearheaded by the government's Patent Office, an arm of the Department of Trade and Industry, the project, revealed Aug. 10, coordinates a broad group of brand owners, customs, police and trading standards officials to work together as a network to enforce IP protection.

The strategy is intended to facilitate coordination and exchange of information among the bodies involved in fighting IP crime and to improve training for those working at the front line.

In its "Counter Offensive" strategy report, the Patent Office outlines an approach that will bring together government, industry and enforcement agencies to create an annual "National Enforcement Report," due to be published in December 2004. In future years, the report will be issued in January.

The report will furnish information to support a control strategy to be determined by a high-level group, known as the Strategic Tasking and Coordination Group. The team will comprise as-yet-unannounced "key decision makers" from the government, industry and enforcement sectors who will set priorities for prevention and enforcement.

The Alliance Against Counterfeiting & Piracy welcomed the National IP Crime Strategy. In a statement, the group says, "It is vitally important that government, industry and enforcement bodies work together to ensure consumers and business are properly protected and not exploited by organized crime. Counterfeiting and piracy is growing, and the measures outlined today will go a long way in combating this criminal activity. By sharing information and intelligence it will become more difficult for counterfeiters and pirates to operate -- meaning consumers will be better protected, organized crime will be disrupted, and industry will stop losing billions of pounds a year."

The Alliance is a coalition of trade and representative organizations in businesses such as music, audiovisual, games, retail, and branded goods who share an interest in preventing counterfeiting and piracy in the United Kingdom.

Labels' body the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) and author's rights society the Mechanical-Copyright Protection Society (MCPS) -- both part of the Alliance -- also welcomed the initiative.

"We hope as a result of this, that the police will put IP theft on their radar," says David Martin, director of the BPI's anti-piracy unit. "We're very encouraged by it and hopefully it will mean that finally there is going to be a national coordinated strategy to deal with IP crime, right across the sector," Martin notes.

"This is a positive step forward in the fight against the counterfeiters who rob composers, songwriters and music publishers of their earnings," adds Nick Kounoupias, head of the MCPS' anti-piracy unit.

The BPI and MCPS are among 30 organizations that are contributing to the project; others include the National Crime Squad, the Trading Standards Institute, HM Customs and Excise, Federation Against Copyright Theft and gaming body ELSPA.

Launching the project, British industry minister Jacqui Smith vowed to deliver greater government assistance in defeating the escalating counterfeit trade. "Pirates and bootleggers cheat consumers and place a drain on our economy," says Smith in a statement. "We cannot, and we will not, simply turn a blind eye to copyright and trade-mark crime."

The Anti-Counterfeiting Group estimates that counterfeiting and piracy cost the British economy £10 billion ($18 billion) and 4,000 jobs each year.

According to the BPI, the value of the counterfeit music trade in Britain exceeded £56 million ($103 million) in 2003. The trade body claims that commercial music piracy in Britain increased last year by 13%, a rate of increase six times that of legitimate album sales.

Also in its report, the Patent Office hints at plans for international aspects of its IP enforcement strategy. "There will be a need to develop bilateral and multilateral strategies with overseas governments," states the report.

According to a recent International Federation of the Phonographic Industry publication, the global pirate music business was worth $4.5 billion in 2003. The trade body estimates that one out of every three physical CDs sold last year was pirated.

Publication of the Patent Office's strategy came within 24 hours of a separate study that revealed that 44% of Britain's 18- to 29-year-olds own bogus goods. The survey of 2,180 people, conducted by research company YouGov on behalf of the Business Software Alliance, also found that 28% for the 30-50 age group own pirated intellectual property. That figure fell to 17% for those over 50.