The European Commission this week adopted a communication on enhancing the enforcement of intellectual property rights in the internal market. The communication sets out a series of practical initiatives to respond to the dramatic and damaging effect that counterfeiting and piracy is having on EU economies. The EC is proposing to complement the existing legal framework by more focused enforcement through greater collaboration between the private sector, national authorities and consumers, throughout the internal market.
Over the last decade, the counterfeiting and piracy phenomenon has risen to dangerous dimensions and has become a major problem facing world business. With direct links to organized crime, counterfeiters have become extremely skilled entrepreneurs operating on a global scale. Counterfeiters make expert use of current technology and trade and succeed in producing every imaginable type of fake. Where previously only luxury goods, fashion and music and film products fell victim, nowadays, counterfeiting affects foodstuffs, cosmetics, hygiene products, medicine and spare parts of cars, toys and various types of technical and electronic equipment.
As a result, the danger to health and safety increases, while at the same time consumers are often not aware that when they buy a fake product there is a chance that at least part of the money will go to organized crime. Within the EU there are already a number of legal instruments in place, such as the Enforcement Directive (http://ec.europa.eu/internal-market/iprenforcement/directives-en.htm) , but in order to make them more effective the EU is seeking stronger administrative cooperation between authorities at all levels in the fight against piracy and counterfeiting. On September 2008 the European Council adopted a resolution on a comprehensive EU anti-counterfeiting and anti-piracy plan. This resolution endorsed the need to step up the fight against fake goods and called for the creation of a European Observatory on Counterfeiting and Piracy (http://ec.europa.eu/internal-market/iprenforcement/observatory/index-en.htm).
Intellectual property rights are arguably a cornerstone of a creative, competitive, wealth-generating, knowledge-based society. Counterfeiting and piracy are believed by many to undermine this position, placing creators, business, jobs and consumers at ever-growing risk through fake products and services that pose a real threat to health and safety.
The EC aims to ensure a highly efficient, proportionate and predictable system of enforcement of intellectual property rights, both within and outside the internal market. The current legal framework provides the tools to enforce intellectual property rights in a fair, effective and proportionate way.
Complementing legislation, the actions in the new communication aim to support enforcement through a new EU Observatory on counterfeiting and piracy which will bring together national representatives, private sector experts and consumers to work to collect data on and analyze the scope and scale of the problem, share information, promote best practices and strategies, raise awareness and propose solutions to key problems. The aim of the communication is also to foster administrative cooperation across Europe by developing coordination to ensure that more effective exchanges of information and mutual assistance can take place. As a result, member states were called to designate national coordinators. An electronic network for information sharing will also need to be available.
In that respect, the EC hopes the communication will build coalitions between stakeholders to overcome conflicts and disputes, by developing collaborative voluntary arrangements that focus on concrete problems, such as the sale of counterfeit goods over the internet, and are capable to adapt quickly to changing markets and technology. Such agreements can also be more easily extended beyond the EU and become the foundation for best practice at global level.
The communication results from the EC's IPR Strategy for Europe adopted last year and builds upon the recent European Council resolution on a comprehensive European anti-counterfeiting and anti-piracy plan.
The author is the head of the International Department at GSCB Law Firm.