EU looks to halt online sales of fake goods

More and more online consumers in Europe are inadvertently buying fake goods.

The European Commission on Thursday presented its 2009 report on seizures at European Union external borders. It revealed that customs officials took action in 43,500 cases involving several million products and that individual postal packages seemingly destined for private online shoppers made up a large proportion of these.

John Taylor, head of sector in the Directorate General for Taxation and Customs, said that although it was difficult to put an exact figure on the number of online consumers duped, the amount of counterfeit goods seized resulting from Internet commerce had definitely increased.

Most of the infringements (more than 90%) were related to trademarks. However, pirated CDs and DVDs accounted for all of the intellectual property copyright infringements, while unrecorded CDs and DVDs accounted for 70 percent of patent infringements. Other high-tech products seized in quantity include mobile phones and MP3 players.

In the past, luxury goods were most likely to be counterfeited, but more and more everyday items are now being faked, according to the report. Cigarettes accounted for 19% of the cases, labels 13% and medicines 10%. Fake medicines were also of major concern because of the potential damage to consumers.

In all, 75% of the counterfeit goods were shipped by post. Not all of these were for private individuals, but Taylor said it was fair to assume that single items being posted were privately ordered by customers who thought they were the genuine article.

In principle, all goods that enter or leave the E.U. are subject to examination, however in practice, officials rely heavily on the information given by the industry. In 2009, more than 90% of goods detained were as a direct result of a company's application. The main aim of customs authorities is to prevent the trade of counterfeit goods in commercial quantities rather than individual shipments.

Of the goods seized in 2009, only 5% proved to be genuine. The majority of the rest, more than 77%, were destroyed or a court case was initiated to determine the infringement. China still leads the field in counterfeit goods with almost 65% of all cases last year.

The European Commission is due to present a proposal to improve the current customs legislation on goods that violate intellectual property rights by the end of the year.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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