Counterfeit: Fake brands a real threat to industry: Copy-cat goods cost millions in legitimate trade - and jobs. But a new law aims to make life tougher for the fakers

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The Independent Online
COUNTERFEIT goods valued at pounds 7.5m were seized last year by trading standards officers. But the undetected manufacture of fakes could be costing British businesses many times as much, as well as possibly thousands of lost jobs.

The biggest problem is with videotapes and audio cassettes, which are easily produced and can be sold at a large profit. According to the Royal Ulster Constabulary, these products are a key source of income for paramilitary organisations. Other common products are fake brand-name jeans that can disintegrate in their second wash, and branded T-shirts that lose all their colour on contact with water.

'We had a guy sent down for making fake washing powder, which turned out to be caustic soda, who had recruited YTS trainees,' said Ed Chicken, chief trading standards officer for North Yorkshire County Council.

Strathclyde regional council, in Scotland, last year seized pounds 1m of counterfeit products, which, it says, reflects the council's highly organised system of operation. 'Two or three years ago we recognised the serious problems of consumer fraud with clocked cars, illegal money-lending and counterfeiting, which were all damaging to local industry,' said Bruce Collier, director of Strathclyde's consumer trading standards department.

'The council put funds into a consumer fraud unit, with undercover officers, surveillance cameras and undercover vehicles with sophisticated equipment. We got a network of good information from the market place. As a result we've taken about a dozen manufacturers in Strathclyde, raided their premises and seized goods.

'On one occasion we found 66 video recorders in a bank, churning out videos. We've seized perfumes, Pringle sweaters, Reebok shoes, altogether millions of pounds' worth of goods in recent years.'

Only West Yorkshire County Council was more successful last year in seizing fakes. Without the resources of Strathclyde, West Yorkshire also attributed its success to effective organisation.

Paul Cooper, head of West Yorkshire council's fair trading section, said: 'There is limited value in prosecuting a retailer who may be in possession of 25 or 100 counterfeit watches, bottles of perfume or videos.

'We don't ignore them, but we concentrate on the manufacturers. In one seizure we got 25,060 bottles of perfume. That prevented a lot of sales from car boots and market stalls.'

West Yorkshire clocked up more seizures of goods than the whole of London, with its 32 boroughs plus the Corporation of London.

Trading standards officers say this demonstrates the importance of working in the larger areas of the existing counties, advantages that seem likely to be lost with new, smaller, unitary authorities.

Nevertheless, despite the Government's drive towards deregulation, counterfeiters seem likely to face a more difficult future. The Trade Marks Bill, currently going through the committee stage in the House of Commons, will make it easier for companies to register trade marks, and to protect them overseas. The Bill also overturns a court ruling that a retailer who displayed a disclaimer could not be convicted of selling counterfeit goods.

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