Adulterating medicine, manufacturing bogus goods and trying to sell dubious agricultural mixtures to spray on food crops are just a few of the crimes categorized under the heading of intellectual property rights violations. These crimes bilk U.S. businesses out of billions of dollars each year and threaten the health and safety of American consumers.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which leads the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center), recently continued its ongoing dialogue with industry leaders who are hard pressed to protect their brand names and financial interests as the illicit business of counterfeiting and pirating products is becoming a thriving criminal underworld. The venue for this round of meetings was in Hong Kong on March 5.
Besides pharmaceuticals and food, other items found tainted and/or substandard include, but is certainly not limited to, toothpaste, pet food, lead-painted toys, surge protectors, extension cords, luxury goods, tires, and automobile and aircraft parts.
ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton and IPR Center officials discussed issues surrounding counterfeiters with the Acting U.S. Consul General Christopher Marut and representatives from a broad range of corporations.
ICE's main mission in the city by the South China Sea was to spread the message that the IPR Center, located in Arlington, Va., is the high-tech home and "one-stop shop" dedicated to targeting criminals and criminal organizations that produce, smuggle and distribute counterfeit products.
The IPR Center is a brain trust of seven federal agencies that take concrete and definitive actions in waging the battle against unscrupulous profiteers who steal labels and logos and peddle bogus and often dangerous products to the public. IPR Center members analyze, investigate and prosecute defendants who pass off as the real thing fake pharmaceuticals, DVDs, apparel and other products.
Morton noted that, "The transnational intellectual property thieves are devising increasingly sophisticated methods to carry out their schemes and conspiracies. To counter them, we must develop effective partnerships on a global scale. Only by working together across traditional boundaries will we be able to effectively frustrate the efforts of the world's intellectual property thieves."
At the discussion in Hong Kong, IPR Center Program Manager Thomas Hipelius cited ICE's 41-U.S. city targeted investigation this past December called Holiday Hoax. ICE's investigation illustrated the rampant pervasiveness of counterfeits as law enforcement seized 708,250 counterfeit goods worth more than $26 million in the form of Christmas ornaments, toys, DVDs, CDs, clothing, footwear, handbags, perfume, cosmetics, hygiene products, electronics and pharmaceuticals.
In December 2009, at the IPR Center, Chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America Dan Glickman said that those who pirate DVDs are stealing "from the hard earned wages of the men and women working in all 50 states of our union. In these difficult economic times, that is a price our workers, our industry, and indeed, our nation, cannot afford. So we applaud the law enforcement agencies…for their commitment and dedication to our common struggle."
The meeting in Hong Kong was one of many meetings ICE and the IPR Center have been hosting with industry leaders and U.S. law enforcement officials to gather a better understanding of the issues in order to help the IPR Center fulfill its mission to protect the health and safety of the U.S. public and stop unfair trade practices that threaten the global economy.