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Know your enemy: Fighting IP crime in the UK

In a guest post, Tim Moss - CEO of the UK IPO - discusses collaborating with law enforcement and the private sector to fight IP crime

Tim Moss
We’re good at fighting IP crime in the UK. Time and time again we are ranked top globally for our enforcement regime.

The UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) is having great success through collaborating with our partners in law enforcement and the private sector. They work tirelessly to make the lives of IP thieves as difficult as possible.

Our partnership model has had many successes from cracking down on the counterfeiters of Manchester, to starving pirate websites of advertising revenue. Innovation and creativity is the backbone of the UK economy and it’s worth protecting. 

Four challenges

Despite the accolades and the worldwide recognition of our enforcement work it would be disingenuous to claim we have won, or are even winning, the war on IP crime. For that goal to be achieved we must overcome four challenges:

First, need to build a better understanding of the scale of the problem. Second, we must work with industry to tackle tech-savvy IP criminals online. Third, we need to change a public perception that IP crime is ok - we need to make buying fakes and illegal downloading more socially unacceptable. Last, and perhaps most importantly, we need to build and improve upon effective collaboration: cross-sector, cross-industry, and cross border.

Published on September 4, an OECD report funded by the IPO highlighted the impact of counterfeiting on the UK as a whole. Up to 4% of UK imports are fake, deceived consumers are £100 million out of pocket, and thousands of retail jobs have probably been lost as a result of counterfeiting. The strength of the UK’s innovative industries, and their subsequent reliance on IP rights, increases our vulnerability. Fakes make up 3% of the total value of products protected by trade marks or patents.

The IPO is building the evidence base to better understand the nature of IP crime. In recent months we have worked with both Kantar Media and PRS for music to unpick issues regarding online copyright infringement. Reports such as the Online Copyright Infringement Tracker and the joint IPO and PRS Stream-Ripping investigation help us better understand the way infringers think.  

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles” said Sun Tzu. While the findings of the OECD report are alarming, it is precisely this kind of evidence we need if we are to fight IP crime in a strategic way.

When thinking of the IP challenges posed by the internet, copyright piracy and theft are the first to spring to mind. However it must be noted that the online world also offers opportunities to the sellers of physical fake goods.

The internet, and social media in particular, has enabled us to be more connected than ever. We are able to share ideas and information in an instant. Unfortunately criminal networks wishing to peddle fake goods have also benefited from the creation of this new marketplace.

Share and Share Alike, a joint IPO and University of Hertfordshire study (also published on September 4) has shown that nearly a fifth (17.5%) of transactions on social media sites involved the sale of fake goods. Perhaps of more concern is the complicity of consumers – nearly 9 in 10 of those surveyed were fully aware they were purchasing counterfeit goods.

A Sisyphean task

While a black and white heroes-and-villains narrative of IP crime is appealing, it does not accurately reflect the complexities of the issue. We cannot shy away from the fact that many consumers knowingly purchase fake goods online and we cannot simply blame technology companies for creating a marketplace that is being exploited.

Awareness-raising initiatives for consumers and collaboration with tech firms are already well underway. Reports such as these will help us tailor our efforts and better understand the challenges that we face.

The OECD report highlights that China, Hong Kong and India are the source of the vast majority of fakes that enter the UK. No matter how strategic, innovative or clever our enforcement plans within the UK are, we face a Sisyphean task if we are unable to reduce the sheer volume of fakes headed to our shores from abroad.

If counterfeiting is a global epidemic then international cooperation has to be part of the cure. In recent years we have made a great deal of progress working with our international counterparts. One of my priorities as CEO of the IPO will be to ensure that we build on this success.

Our international network of IP attachés – based in China, Brazil, South East Asia, and India – play a vital role in supporting UK businesses who are, or thinking of, getting active in overseas markets. We need both emerging and established economies to respect IP rights if we wish to shut counterfeit goods off at source.

We are good at fighting IP crime in the UK. But with the right evidence and with the support of our partners we can, and will, be better.

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