Late last month, officers from the Office of the Commissioner for Customs (Customs) and lawyers proceeded to destroy a number of counterfeit toothpaste products. The fake toothpaste products had brands on the packaging that were substantially similar to a popular toothpaste brand. The overall outlook of the packaging also closely resembled that of the genuine brands.
Customs notified the brand owners that it had detected a consignment consisting of toothpastes it suspected may infringe the trademark rights of the owner. On being notified, the brand owner immediately, through their lawyers, filed the necessary documents with Customs to suspend clearance of these goods pending a resolution with the importer or if not resolved a decision from the Courts on the merits of the suspension.
The matter did not proceed to legal proceedings as the importer had admitted to importing the offending products and further agreed to their destruction. Based on this outcome, the Customs with lawyers for the brand owner subsequently destroyed the fake toothpastes.
It was pleasing to see Customs actively participate throughout the whole process because how they go about fulfilling their roles is vitally important to the protection of intellectual property rights particularly for imported counterfeits. Their commitment throughout the process also showed promise that they are committed to show importers and overseas manufacturers that PNG is not a dumping ground for fake products.
The outcome is even more beneficial to consumers in Papua New Guinea because the destruction safeguarded them from:
Importing of counterfeit products continues to be a serious concern in Papua New Guinea. From rugby jerseys to television sets, the variety of fake consumer products already in the market is concerning and there is unlikely to be an end to this. That is why the destruction of the fake toothpastes sends a notice to importers of fake products that they too could be on the receiving end for importing counterfeit products.
Why do importers import fake products?
The most obvious reason is that importers can sell fake products at a much cheaper price than genuine products and make a sizeable profit. They continue to import because Papua New Guinea consumers continue to buy them. It’s also fair to say that due to the cost of living becoming expensive in most centers, Papua New Guineans are becoming more vulnerable to buy cheaper goods which in turn provides importers of fake products an opportunity to take advantage of.
The other reason might simply be a case of ignorance. If right-holders and statutory organizations are ignorant in protecting IP rights, importers of fake products will continue importing them knowing that they will not be caught or if caught nothing will be done about it. There are many other reasons.
So, what can be done about imported counterfeit goods?
For starters, it’s impossible to eradicate counterfeit products entirely. It’s a global issue.
But owners of intellectual property assets can take a more proactive approach in the protection of their assets by ensuring that counterfeit products do not pass clearance at Customs. There are several advantages for this.
The first is that by intervening in the Customs clearance process, there is a possibility that the fake goods will not pass clearance and ultimately not enter the store shelves. The last thing an IP owner wants is to deal with counterfeit products when the public are already buying them. Not only does this become a lengthy exercise in enforcing IP rights, there’s a possibility that competitors are making money off you while you’re spending more money enforcing your rights. The best IP strategy is to ensure fake goods don’t enter the market.
The other thing about intervening at Customs is that it becomes a costly exercise for the importer which may lead to the selling of counterfeit products uneconomical. As the fake goods are typically stored pending a resolution of the parties, storage costs usually apply.
Does your business face similar counterfeit issues? If so, we recommend that you speak to the PNG intellectual property experts at Vai IP.