Anti-counterfeiting commissioner issues first report
Dr Giovanni Kessler, the high commissioner appointed by the Italian government to coordinate anti-counterfeiting activities in Italy, has presented his first report to Parliament.
The report reveals that Italy is the biggest national consumer of counterfeit goods in Europe. On the basis of estimates provided by industry, the report states that illegal operators produce around €3.5 billion in counterfeit goods a year. The report indicates that there were 817 arrests, 7,702 criminal complaints, 11,728 administrative fines, 10,779 criminal seizures and 12,283 administrative seizures in the Italian territory in the first half of 2006. As expected, the report states that the sectors most affected by counterfeiting are the clothing, leather goods, footwear, software, watch, music and film industries.
Kessler reports that - on paper, at least - Italy's anti-counterfeiting legislation is among the most advanced in Europe. He also remarks that whereas 10 years ago the average counterfeiter was a street trader, the digital era has allowed counterfeiters to develop highly technical and sophisticated systems to copy products and circumvent legislation.
Kessler is assisted in his task by two vice commissioners and 15 officers. He has also established a technical and scientific advisory committee consisting of five magistrates, a state prosecutor, a colonel in the financial police, two IP professors and the head of INDICAM, the anti-counterfeiting association for Italian industry. The committee may be consulted on specific technical questions and is also responsible for providing a general strategy against counterfeiting and piracy.
The primary role of the unit is to:
- monitor and collect data on counterfeiting and carry out anti-counterfeiting surveillance;
- coordinate and direct the government's policies and strategies for IP protection;
- research and advise on ways of improving legal and administrative IP protection measures; and
- assist businesses affected by counterfeiting.
The high commissioner has no power to implement new laws, bylaws, regulations or other legal provisions, but is empowered to:
- create and improve organizational models for the police forces and the prosecution service;
- propose changes in the law (eg, levels of fines and provisions for the detention and management of goods seized);
- collect and analyze data; and
- organize campaigns to raise consumer awareness of the harm caused by counterfeiting.
The unit has collected data from the many entities which handle counterfeiting issues in Italy. Among these entities are various branches of the Italian police and related services, including:
- the main police forces (ie, the military police and state police);
- the postal police and financial police;
- the customs authorities;
- organizations for the suppression of organized crime; and
- various municipal bodies.
However, different entities use different criteria for quantifying the number of counterfeit products seized: some entities consider the individual components of a counterfeit product, whereas others look at the product as a whole. This makes it difficult to rely on the statistics thus produced. One of the high commissioner's objectives is to standardize and harmonize this data in order to make it more accurate and reliable. He is also examining and comparing the figures available for seizures by the police and the outcome of criminal prosecutions, in particular the number of decisions and the cases which have been closed or postponed.
The high commissioner organizes roundtable forums in order to bring interested parties together to discuss the weaknesses of the anti-counterfeiting system, as well as the additional measures to be taken and the priorities for action. A first discussion table, which took place on March 29 2007, brought together businesses, consumer associations and employees, and was aimed at raising awareness and coordinating anti-counterfeiting activities. A further discussion table took place on May 15 2007, bringing together the high commissioner, representatives from government, police forces and the customs authorities to discuss proposals for legislative reforms, including proposed changes in administrative penalties for consumers who knowingly purchase counterfeit goods, as well as proposed changes in criminal seizures, in particular due to problems associated with the long-term storage of seized items.
The law requires the high commissioner to support and assist Italian businesses affected by counterfeiting abroad. Italian IP offices are being established in eight countries to provide assistance to Italian businesses overseas in their local fight against counterfeiting.
It is hoped that the creation of the unit and the appointment of the high commissioner will assist not only businesses but also consumers in fighting counterfeiting, a problem which not only results in massive financial losses for the industries it affects, but also cheats consumers and - in certain product sectors - endangers health and safety.
Julia Holden, Trevisan & Cuonzo Avvocati, Milan
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