Trevor Little

The World Customs Organisation’s (WCO) second Illicit Trade Report reveals the most counterfeited brands by number of customs cases in 2013. While Nike took the unenviable top spot, with Apple some way behind in second place, the statistics only paint part of the picture. For brand owners, though, there are some useful insights. 

The latest figures are based on customs seizures reported through the WCO Customs Enforcement Network (CEN) database by its members. With regards IP rights seizures, more than half of the reported interceptions were of illicit pharmaceutical products, followed by counterfeit electronic appliances and illicit foodstuffs (which contrasts with 2012, when the majority of intercepted commodities were accessories, followed by clothing. Pharmaceutical products came in third position).  The top 15 most counterfeited brands by number of cases in 2013 were as follows:

  1. Nike (1,123 cases)
  2. Apple (867 cases)
  3. Rolex (809 cases)
  4. Samsung (631 cases)
  5. Adidas (532 cases)
  6. Louis Vuitton (497 cases)
  7. Chanel  (464 cases)
  8. Cialis (425 cases)
  9. Viagra (365 cases)
  10. Gucci (307 cases)
  11. Michael Kors (285 cases)
  12. Otterbox (223 cases)
  13. Burberry (191 cases)
  14. Mac Cosmetics (182 cases)
  15. Walt Disney (182 cases)

The list makes for interesting reading but statistics do only tell one part of the story. For instance, while there was a rise in IP rights seizures across the year, the report notes: “This tremendous increase in the number of counterfeit items is partly due to the success of two large-scale enforcement operations.”

Such operations will have a direct impact on seizure levels for goods in particular industries – last year, for instance, a number of pharmaceutical campaigns were undertaken, which could account for the difference in cases involving erectile dysfunction treatment Cialis across 2012 (1,604 cases in 2012 versus 525 in 2013). This year, the top ranked brand in terms of the numbers of pieces seized was cigarette brand Supermatch, with this being due to a large interception carried out in Togo.

Additionally, this year 69 countries reported seizures via the CEN database – up nearly 20% (from 58) on 2012. Had there not been a spike, then, something would clearly have been amiss and in some respects one could have expected a sharper rise in the number of registered cases (which rose from 22,543 in 2012 to 24,092 in 2013 despite the jump in reporting countries).

While the data is impacted by enforcement initiatives and reporting patterns, and does not reflect the true nature (and levels) of counterfeiting activities across the globe, it does offer an important glimpse into general counterfeiting patterns, particularly with respect the tactics being utilised by infringers to evade detection. In this respect, it is worth noting that authorities has observed a marked trend towards the importation of separate small parts and blank products which would then be assembled in the country of destination.

The report explains: “Domestic assembly is one of the most popular ways for offenders to try to circumvent Customs. Common practice is that small parts, shaped as a brand name, and blank products (sunglasses, wallets, hair accessories etc) are imported separately, in the hope that at least the blank products will be cleared. It is also an often observed practice for multiple electronic parts, some with logos and some without, to be imported along with apparent manuals for putting together products such as watches and flat-screen TVs. These shrewd practices, though in different product categories, turned out to be popular and widespread across different parts of the world.” Additionally, counterfeiters are turning to consolidated cargo to reduce the risk of the whole container being seized.

Of course, knowing what the tricks of the counterfeiters are and then actually putting a stop to them are two very different things, but all enforcement programmes have to start with the knowledge of how infringers operate. In this respect, having the WCO’s Illicit Trade Report track such patterns on an annual basis provides important intelligence to both enforcement authorities and the brand owners working with them.


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