Today's guest blog is brought to you by the Director of the Global Intellectual Property Center at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Aaron Smethurst.
It’s easy to understand that the protection of intellectual property (IP) rights helps deliver meaningful jobs and boosts our economy [link to old guest blog], but what does it have to do with our personal safety? While you might think that counterfeiting and piracy only hurts someone’s wallet, a much more dangerous epidemic of IP theft is now hurting consumer health and safety, with the mushrooming of fake medicines, brake pads, and power cords in the global market.
Counterfeiting and piracy are very lucrative industries, and the criminals who oversee these operations are concerned solely with lining their own pockets – not your health and safety or the good of society. Because the penalties are much lower compared with the trade in illegal drugs or weapons, the illicit trade in counterfeit goods and hosting pirated materials has become the preferred form of cash flow for organized crime.
Perhaps the most sinister and troubling of these schemes is the global trade in counterfeit pharmaceuticals, which are delivered to unsuspecting medical workers and consumers. It’s hard to know just how many counterfeit drugs are being sold, but the stories from law enforcement agents show that the problem is only growing and serve powerful reminders of the dangers these products pose. Counterfeiters are mixing concoctions of their own sometimes laced with the likes of drywall, ink toner, or toxic metals and packaging them as legitimate medicines.
It’s hard enough to detect a counterfeit medicine in person, but with the added degree of separation on the Internet, online consumers more than ever are falling victim to imbibing harmful products they intended to preserve their health rather than hurt it. This is precisely why the Global Intellectual Property Center recently launched its Dangerous Fakes campaign, which highlights this real and growing threat.
Lifesaving medicines created by legitimate producers take an average of 10-15 years and billions of dollars in research and development to produce the safest, most effective treatments possible.
Needless to say, counterfeiters and IP thieves aren’t stewards of public health and safety. These criminals have built their business models on intentionally hiding from any kind of accountability. That way they are nowhere to be found when their products fail to meet internationally recognized health and safety standards or end up hurting (or even killing) consumers.
Public safety is not the only risk of these dangerous fakes; every product sold by a counterfeiter deprives a legitimate business owner in the community of a sale and reduces community funding for schools, hospitals, and other services. While these legitimate businesses are trying to keep their doors open in a tough economy, counterfeiters are living opulent lives free from responsibility to consumer or community.
So, what can we do to support responsible and legitimate businesses against this tide of illicit trade? We need to ask our governments to continue to crack down on illegal operators and provide robust protection and enforcement for the protection of intellectual property. While IP facilitates the process of discovering breakthrough medicines and treatments, it also provides a system for consumers to recognize respected brands and products, especially in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. In this case, IP delivers safety.