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There is some good stuff coming out of the Third Global Congress on Combating Counterfeiting currently taking place in Geneva. Following the ICC/Bascap report discussed yesterday, John Dryden, deputy director of science, technology and industry at the OECD, has told delegates at the meeting that a report to be published by the organisation later this year is likely to claim that around 2% of the world’s trade is accounted for by pirate and counterfeit goods. If this does turn out to be the case, it will be a significantly lower figure that the usual - and widely discredited – 5% to 7% that is normally quoted. However, the numbers involved would still be huge, with the OECD estimating that the global trade in the products of IP crime was worth over $175 billion in 2004 alone – that’s a lot of missed tax revenue and lost profits.
Much hinges on the report that the OECD does bring out. If it is recognised as being well-researched and thorough so that the amounts quoted can be believed, it will make things very much easier for IP owners seeking to improve the enforcement environment across the world. In the past, many governments have been sceptical about IP owners' claims on the basis that the information they were being given did not actually stand up to much scrutiny. Was it right, for example, to assume that those buying counterfeit goods would automatically have bought originals if the fakes had not mean available, and to extrapolate losses based on this? The honest answer is probably not. Yet that is what some organisations representing IP owners have done. Then you have the problem of co-operation. Many companies are just not keen to share accurate information about the extent to which they are affected by IP crime.
I remember sitting in a conference room in Brussels listening to a senior British civil servant make just that point. Speaking at the European Public Private Security Forum held in December 2005, Stephen Webb, the Head of the Home Office’s Organised and Financial Crime Unit, explained that in putting together the current UK crime strategy – which is based on prioritising the fight against crimes which cause harm to communities – an assessment had been made on the effects certain types of criminal activity were having. When it came to counterfeiting, he said, it had been difficult to get an accurate picture. In fact, he went so far as to say that in some cases the Home Office’s perception was that industry may be exaggerating. And, if data is poor, he continued, what does this say about industry’s real concerns? If the threat posed by organised crime does not appear such a large problem for CEOs and other senior decision makers, why should it be a government concern? How, he asked, can government justify significant increases in public spending on tackling IP crime when the major beneficiaries would seem to be industry and shareholders, and not the public at large?
This goes back to the point I was making yesterday. While it is vital that concerned IP owners continue to lobby governments, they may need to spend more time putting pressure on their colleagues in business. If business as a whole is not perceived to view IP crime as an issue worth fighting, why on earth should governments and the general public be bothered about it?