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IACC President Bob Barchiesi interview: Fighting fakes around the world

James Nurton talks to IACC President Bob Barchiesi about counterfeits, China and the Coalition’s governance

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The International AntiCounterfeiting Coalition (IACC) held its Annual Spring Conference at Barcelona’s Hotel Arts earlier this week. Alongside panel discussions and meetings with US IP attachés, there were keynote presentations by Eloy Quirós, commissioner general of the Spanish Judicial Police, Peter Ratcliffe, detective chief inspector of the City of London Police, and Josep Carles Llagostera, principal Customs administrator at Barcelona-El Prat airport.

The speakers reflect IACC President Bob Barchiesi’s priorities of “working with intermediaries and law enforcement” around the world. In the past decade, he says, IACC (which is based in Washington DC) has “expanded our international footprint” and this year’s Conference welcomed attendees from about 40 countries. In the past 18 months alone, Barchiesi has travelled to meet enforcement officials in Saudi Arabia, Dubai and Italy, as well as the US, and held an event for Latin American officials in Miami.

Bob Barchiesi IACCMuch of this engagement is focused on dealing with counterfeit sales on e-commerce sites, says Barchiesi: “The biggest challenge is online counterfeiting, without a doubt. It tracks consumer shopping habits.” As more people use sites such as Amazon, eBay and Alibaba to buy goods, the risk to brand owners increases: “They [counterfeiters] don’t have to put in R&D or spend any money. Direct shipments are becoming a really serious problem. If they use UPS-type parcels, think about the challenges that presents for Customs officials around the world. It’s a big challenge.”

Follow the money

IACC has been focused on online intermediaries since about 2010, based on the “Follow the money” principle. But you have to pick your battles, he says: for example, efforts to work with credit card companies have borne fruit, but it has been much more difficult to engage domain name registries and registrars. In cases where there is a clearly a “criminal enterprise” then it’s important to involve law enforcement – but in other cases the intermediary may simply be able to shut down the listing and ban the seller. “What we’re good at we’re very good at, and there’s a lot of things we’re not good at. Other organisations might be better placed for example to do legislative work in Europe, such as ICC BASCAP or INDICAM,” says Barchiesi.

Moreover, he adds, involving the police or Customs is no substitute for other action: “We don’t think we have the silver bullet. It’s an added option – it doesn’t take away other options. It doesn’t stop you taking other appropriate action including litigation. It’s not going to be the only tool to address the problem.”

Two initiatives that IACC has launched are RogueBlock and MarketSafe. The former is a partnership with credit card companies that enables IACC member companies to report online sellers of counterfeit or pirated goods. So far, it has taken down more than 5,000 individuals’ accounts, affecting more than 200,000 websites. MarketSafe is IACC’s programme dedicated to Alibaba and associated websites, and provides an expedited removal procedure that has so far closed down 6,800 sellers’ storefronts and removed nearly 200,000 infringing listings. It is open to IACC members and non-members. More than 100 brands have applied to join the MarketSafe Expansion Program, which was announced last year.

Focus on China

As MarketSafe demonstrates, China is a focus for IACC and its members: Barchiesi has travelled to the country to meet the top 50 e-commerce platforms and discuss best practices. In the longer term, he would like to sign a memorandum of understanding with AQSIQ (China’s anti-counterfeiting authority). “We want to try to find areas where agree and work closely on those areas and make progress,” he says.

However, IACC’s engagement with China suffered a setback last year when Alibaba’s Jack Ma pulled out of its Spring Conference in Orlando at the last minute, following a row over Alibaba’s membership of the Coalition. The issue divided IACC’s membership, but Barchiesi still insists that it was right to invite Ma to speak: “Ma met with Obama and Spielberg and Trump. I would think we would want to hear what he has to say, be respectful and if necessary disagree ... I want to hear from different people. I still believe it was a missed opportunity not to listen to Jack Ma.”

The Alibaba controversy was followed by an anonymous letter raising questions about the governance of the Coalition, which prompted the Board to launch an independent review. Asked about this period, Barchiesi says: “When I took over [in 2008] there were a lot of issues. I spent the first year making sure we would survive. From 2010 IACC grew rapidly and the corporate governance protocols did not keep up. The letter hurt a lot of innocent people, and connected dots that weren’t there. No misrepresentation or misconduct was found, they made some recommendations which we put in place, and I think we’re in a good place now. We have an exciting couple of years ahead of us.”

IACC now has about 250 members and a Board of Directors representing 12 brand owners. None of the Board members was available for an interview this month, according to an IACC spokesperson.

From wiretaps to Bitcoin

In the light of last year’s developments, Barchiesi says that communication could be improved. For example, he admits that he would “love to have” media at the IACC events, but that it is difficult given the sensitivities around keynote speakers, and that IP associations could work together more effectively. He also believes IACC could do a better job reaching out to small and medium-sized companies, and industries it does not already cover. Above all, he says the Coalition needs to “stay ahead of the curve” as technology develops.

“Look how quickly the technology has developed in the past 15 years and how difficult it is to keep up with that,” says the former New York City policeman, who can remember the first wiretaps in the 1970s, and now ponders the threat posed by Bitcoin. “Today a consumer in New York City can connect directly with a manufacturer in China and get a delivery direct to their house. Maybe in five years’ time it could be a drone? Or 3D printing?”

GACG Awards

Managing IP is pleased to support the 2017 Global Anti-Counterfeiting Awards, which will be presented in Paris on June 7 (World Anti-Counterfeiting Day). Following a nomination process which closed last month, winners will be presented in categories including national public body; international public organisation; company; group/association; and professional/technology services.

More information about the winners, including photos from the ceremony, will be available at managingip.com/GACAwards after June 7.

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