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Brussels, 2nd April 2009

European Counterfeiting and Piracy Observatory: Frequently Asked Questions

(see IP/09/528)

Why do we need an Observatory?

Over the past ten years the global explosion in counterfeiting and piracy has become one of the most devastating problems facing world business. Twenty years ago, counterfeiting might have been regarded as a problem chiefly for the manufacturers of expensive handbags. But nowadays, counterfeiters have broadened their manufacture to include not only fake electrical appliances, car parts and toys, but also medicines – a development which could have potentially disastrous results (see MEMO/08/299).

International trade in counterfeit and pirated goods is estimated to have reached USD 200 billion in 2005.[1] Clearly, action is required.

On 25 September 2008, the Competitiveness Council adopted a Resolution on a comprehensive EU anti-counterfeiting and anti-piracy plan (see IP/08/1416). This Resolution endorsed the need to step up the fight against Counterfeiting and Piracy and called for the creation of a European Counterfeiting and Piracy Observatory.

The European Commission is pleased to announce the launch of the Observatory on 2 April 2009, at a High Level Conference on Counterfeiting and Piracy. The overall goal of the Observatory is to produce continuous, objective assessments and up-to-date research that lead to exchange of best practice and knowledge gathering among policymakers, industry experts and enforcement bodies.

What do we mean by an "Observatory"?

The structure of the Observatory will be light and flexible. Each Member State of the EU will have a delegate alongside key private sector representatives. The day-to-day operation of the Observatory will be run by the Commission services. The work of the Observatory will be shaped on the basis of a series of regular meetings where the representatives will jointly discuss the work and output of the Observatory and how to best tackle the problems at hand.

The Observatory will provide a forum for discussions between Members of the European Parliament, Member States, businesses, experts on intellectual property rights, researchers, enforcement bodies to analyse problems and shape best practice improvements. As a result it aims to become a recognised source of knowledge on counterfeiting and piracy and a central resource for enforcers.

What will be the Observatory's main tasks?

The Observatory will boost the fight against counterfeiting and piracy by:

1. Obtaining better information including figures about the size of the problem

Broad facts about the damage caused by counterfeiting and piracy are fairly well known, but more detailed figures based on solid evidence have been more difficult to assemble. This is partly due to the clandestine nature of the problem, but also because national authorities and businesses affected by the problem have not collected information in a systematic and uniform way. Some base their figures on the number of incidents, some in terms of volume, and some in terms of value; some collect only information from where the goods originate; and some group products in very broad categories while the others clearly specify them.

At present, the most robust figures indicating the scale of the problem are based on customs seizures of counterfeit/pirated goods at EU borders. Unfortunately, infringements at the borders only depict a part of the picture and as a result, infringers are seemingly able to keep one step ahead of the law.

It is necessary to understand why some products, sectors, Member States and geographic areas within the EU are more vulnerable than others. Comprehensive and comparable figures will help to establish priorities and programmes and facilitate more focused enforcement.

2. Better cooperation between enforcement authorities

Due to the highly organised nature of counterfeiting and piracy, the response to it must be as coordinated as possible. Counterfeits often enter the EU through the countries where there is no intellectual property protection and once the goods are in the EU they may circulate freely. Within Member States, competent national authorities responsible for combating this must be in regular contact with each other and their actions must be synchronised. They must be in permanent contact with relevant private sector bodies. Since counterfeiting and piracy are often cross-border activities, better cooperation between Member States is a must.

3. Exploring and spreading successful private sector strategies

Through regular contacts, the Observatory will gather information on successful anti-counterfeiting and piracy strategies and successful measures undertaken by the private sector. It will outline how businesses have managed to prevent and disrupt infringing acts; how have they coped with multiple jurisdictions and recovered damages; how they have learned from the difficulties they have encountered while enforcing their rights through traditional civil, criminal, administrative enforcement mechanisms and how we can all learn more from any alternative enforcement procedures being used.

4. Raising public awareness

Consumers are often not aware that when they buy a fake product there is a good chance that at least part of the money will go to organised crime or child labour. In many cases, fake goods are made under slavish conditions, often by children under ten years of age. Not to mention the widely reported stories from countries where fake cough medicines, life-saving drugs or even contaminated milk have killed hundreds of people and sickened thousands more. Therefore, it is essential that consumers are duly informed about the risks and dangers of buying counterfeit and pirated goods as well as the effect on society as a whole.

The Observatory will aim to identify successful public awareness campaigns, strategies and initiatives within Member States and to communicate successful approaches.

More information can also be found on:

[1] Report on the Economic Impact of Counterfeiting and Piracy by the Organisation for Economic Development and Co-operation (

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