Summary from a Student:  Counterfeiting: Ways to Combat

– Iesha Summerall, rising 3L, Howard University School of Law

This session was presented by Toni Y. Hickey, the Deputy General Counsel & Chief IP Counsel at Cummins, Inc., a Fortune 500 company and Robert “Bob” J. Kenney, Partner at the one of the nation’s highest ranked IP firms—Birch, Stewart, Kolasch & Birch, LLP.

The presenters began the session by discussing what a counterfeit is and why it occurs. Bob explained that those who engage in counterfeiting make fake replicas of a real product. These replicas are produced with the intent of taking advantage of the superior value of the imitated product.

Counterfeiting can take place in each area of IP—tampering with patented products, passing off trademarks, and pirating copyrights. Toni and Bob also explained that sometimes the counterfeit product is not counterfeit because it is fake, but counterfeit because it is imported from another country without the permission of the intellectual property owner. These products are known as gray market goods.

After discussing what a counterfeit is and why it occurs, Bob and Toni discussed the social justice and business issues that occur as a result of counterfeiting. As a societal concern, defective or inferior goods can seriously injure and even kill consumers, advertently or inadvertently. Toni gave an example of counterfeiting that could affect health. When tampering with a pharmaceutical patent, a counterfeiter can remove the active ingredient from a drug, causing the drug to be completely ineffective. Bob also described how a tech defect in a counterfeit cell phone battery has caused serious injury in the past because it blew up while the consumer was using their cell phone. Another serious societal issue is that counterfeit products are used to support and fund terrorism, organized crime, and sex and drug trafficking.

Business issues that arise as a result of counterfeiting include the counterfeit goods harming the reputation of the trademark or the brand of a product. Counterfeit goods also cannibalize sales from the imitated goods and cause manufacturers to spend millions in resources on anti-counterfeiting efforts and regulation.

Combatting counterfeits can require different approaches and strategy, depending on a firm’s makeup. Toni offered her perspective of combating counterfeiting as in-house counsel and Bob offered his perspective as a partner in a mid-sized firm. One way firms can combat counterfeit goods is to record important marks with the Customs organizations globally. As in-house counsel, Toni further noted that in-house can make efforts to know how their products get to market and record with the appropriate Customs organization. This would make the counterfeit products easier to track before they enter the market. Generally, in order to combat counterfeits, any firm or company should always know the main problem areas and where most of the counterfeit products come from. Additionally, consumers can combat counterfeiting by refusing to purchase inauthentic goods. All in all, it was very interesting to learn the different effects of counterfeiting and how to combat them in the legal profession.