By Lindsey N. Rothrock, Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP
Counterfeiting has always been a matter of grave concern for brand owners, as counterfeit goods can cause lost profits, force brand owners to spend time and money in combatting the importation and sale of the goods, and erode the goodwill associated with a brand. Equally important, counterfeiting harms the consumers, as products that are not genuine can pose serious health and safety risks. In the midst of the current global health crisis caused by COVID-19, such potential harm has been magnified.
In addressing the National Association of Manufacturers on July 23, 2020, Andrei Iancu, Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, highlighted the increased prevalence of counterfeits during the COVID-19 pandemic and stated that the pandemic has shown just how dangerous inaction can be. In addition to fighting the supply of counterfeits, Mr. Iancu emphasized that we must also fight the consumer demand for counterfeits.
Mr. Iancu cited a 2019 study conducted by the International Trademark Association (INTA), titled Gen Z Insights: Brands and Counterfeit Products. The study found that, while 74 percent of Gen Z respondents (on a global average) “think it’s important to buy genuine products,” 79 percent of those respondents (on a global average) reported having purchased at least some counterfeit products in the prior year.
Consumer education plays a key role in the fight against consumer demand. The USPTO has initiated various measures to educate consumers. In response to the pandemic, the USPTO created a COVID-19 Response Resource Center, which, among other things, provides information and resources to help consumers identify and report instances of fraud and counterfeiting. Further, in June 2020, the USPTO partnered with the National Crime Prevention Council to initiate a Go for Real Anti-Counterfeiting Campaign, which aims to help teenagers and their parents understand that counterfeiting is not a victimless crime.
On an international level, INTA has also worked to educate young consumers. Launched in 2012, the goal of INTA’s Unreal Campaign is to educate young consumers (ages 14–23) about the importance of trademarks and brands and the dangers of counterfeit products. Members of the Unreal Campaign committee and volunteers give presentations to students, either virtually or at schools and public events. To date, the campaign has directly reached more than 47,000 students in 39 jurisdictions.
The above are just a few examples of initiatives designed to educate consumers, decrease the demand for counterfeit goods, and ultimately lessen the crippling effects of counterfeiting. The above campaigns provide a means to volunteer or otherwise assist in their promotion efforts, should one wish to get involved.
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