U.S. Companies Urge Clampdown On Piracy 'Epidemic'

Industry groups want President Bush to appoint an IP czar.

Executives representing some of America's biggest companies urged the government on June 14 to aggressively clamp down on a tidal wave of fake products, many of which come from China and Russia. Leaders of several industry associations, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Motion Picture Association of America, and the Coalition Against Counterfeiting and Piracy, a network of over 300 U.S. companies and trade associations, said the government should urgently adopt tougher legal penalties against counterfeiters and boost efforts to combat foreign piracy of U.S. brands.

"It is an epidemic," John Engler, the president of the National Association of Manufacturers, told a news conference at a congressional office building. The groups also called on President George W. Bush to appoint an intellectual property enforcement czar to the White House staff to help police the global fight against fake goods.

Chris Singer, the chief operating officer of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, held aloft two similar-looking medicine packages for reporters to view. "Even our experts have a really hard time telling the difference, although the threat is rare, it is growing," Singer said, identifying one of the packages as fake drugs produced by skilled counterfeiters.

Executives said many of the counterfeit goods seized by customs officers come from China and Russia. The stepped-up industry campaign comes after the U.S. government sharpened trade tensions with China in April by filing a wide-ranging complaint over "rampant" copyright piracy with the World Trade Organization. Some lawmakers have also criticized the Chinese government for what they say is its failure to tackle industrial-scale counterfeiting networks. Despite Chinese government pledges of a clampdown, fake auto parts, DVDs, software, luxury goods, books, footwear and even pharmaceuticals can be widely bought across China, according to officials.

The executives pressured the government the same day as Colgate-Palmolive Co. warned that counterfeit toothpaste falsely packaged as "Colgate" had been found in discount stores. The fake Colgate toothpaste was discovered in several bargain stores in four east coast states and may contain diethylene glycol, a toxic chemical, the consumer products giant warned.

The Chamber of Commerce claims that illegal counterfeiting costs America's economy between $200 billion and $250 billion a year and caused the loss of 750,000 jobs.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2007

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