Federal efforts to fight counterfeiters 15 years ago often meant sending sharp-eyed investigators to flea markets and swap-meets on spring and summer weekends to identify bogus goods.
But as online sales boomed in recent years with endless supplies of counterfeited brand-name products from China and other Asian countries, customs agents and other federal investigators have struggled to track and inspect suspicious imports and internet sales.
And it’s not getting easier. In a seminar Wednesday afternoon at the ATA Trade Show, William Ross, deputy director of the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, urged archery manufacturers to make it easy for customers and retailers to report counterfeited products.
William Ross, deputy director of the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, said his agency is working hard to cut off counterfeiters. For instance, it has severed over 300,000 links on social media that were once conduits for counterfeiters. Photo Credit: Shane Indrebo.
The IPR Center — part of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Homeland Security Investigations — works to protect U.S. intellectual property rights and enforce international trade laws. One of its missions is to stop predatory and unfair trade practices that threaten the global economy. The IPR Center works with 23 partner agencies, including 19 federal agencies, Interpol, Europol and the governments of Canada and Mexico.
But even that’s not enough firepower to drive counterfeiters out of business. Ross notes that it’s challenging to monitor the United States’ 328 ports of entry, 325,000 importers, 100,000-plus miles of borders and shorelines, 67,000 containers processed daily, 28 million cargo entries annually, and 250 million postal and express-carrier entries annually.
Even though federal agencies made 31,560 seizures on goods worth an estimated $1.4 billion in 2016, it’s physically impossible to inspect and verify every item arriving from abroad. That’s another reason the ATA Board of Directors voted in July 2017 to banish any manufacturer caught counterfeiting from the ATA and its annual ATA Trade Show.
The ATA’s anti-counterfeiting initiatives also allow ATA-member manufacturers to place the ATA logo on their products so consumers can easily identify them as originals. Nonmember manufacturers that use the logo can expect swift, strong legal action by the ATA to protect the logo’s integrity.
By designating products as legitimate originals produced by an ATA-member company, archers and bowhunters know they’re buying the real deal. And if someone counterfeits the ATA’s logo and the product, the damages go far beyond the value of the product. If all 600-plus ATA manufacturing members use the logo on all their products, it’s easy to see how damages could skyrocket. That’s why the ATA would seek extensive damages from anyone using its logo illegally.
By designating products as legitimate originals produced by an ATA-member company, archers and bowhunters know they’re buying the real deal. Photo Credit: Shane Indrebo.
Even so, the ATA Board of Directors knows it’s in a long-term fight. As Ross noted during the seminar, counterfeiters today are skilled criminals. Their imitations closely resemble authentic products, they use photos of authentic products in online advertising, and they know how to price their imitations just low enough to not arouse suspicions.
“A few years ago, you knew a product was likely counterfeit if it cost half as much as the real thing,” Ross said. “You knew it was too good to be true. Today, they’ve learned that if they sell a product for 10 percent off, people think it’s legitimate. Unfortunately, once the customer receives it and it fails, they blame the legitimate manufacturer.”
Ross said his agency is working hard to cut off counterfeiters. For instance, it has severed over 300,000 links on social media that were once conduits for counterfeiters. It also urges banks and credit-card companies to take down payment platforms for operations identified as counterfeiters. Further, it asks the U.S. Post Office and shipping companies like UPS ad FedEx to not pick up packages from identified counterfeiters.
“We need everyone’s help with this,” Ross said. “We can’t seize or arrest our way out of this problem. This isn’t just a government problem. It’s a problem for everyone, and requires everyone’s awareness and cooperation.”