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Charlie McCREEVY

European Commissioner for Internal Market and Services

Opening Remarks

High Level Conference on Counterfeiting and Piracy
Brussels, 2nd April 2009

Delivered by Martin Power, Head of Cabinet of Commissioner Charlie McCreevy

Ladies and gentlemen,

On behalf of Commissioner McCreevy and distinguished members of the European Parliament I would like to welcome you to this morning to this, the second High Level Conference on Counterfeiting and Piracy.

Commissioner McCreevy was called to an urgent meeting in London, and unfortunately he could not be here to open this conference. But he is making every effort to be with us later today. When he hosted the First High Level Conference on Counterfeiting and Piracy last year, the Commissioner made it abundantly clear that it was not a one off event. Indeed, his intention was to kick start a focused action plan against IP theft, to be implemented over the coming years.

Since last year's Conference I am pleased to confirm that we have been moving the agenda along. Last July, the Commission adopted an Industrial Property Rights Strategy for Europe. This strategy was endorsed by the Council in September. In its Resolution, the Council invited the Commission to take affirmative action and deliver a number of key measures, of which, the most important, is the main reason we are here today – the creation of a European Observatory on Counterfeiting and Piracy.

This Observatory is a concrete response to the many growing problems and challenges that Europe and the World are facing in fighting counterfeiting and piracy. It is a move forward towards cracking this menace - which robs our inventors, designers and creative artists of their just rewards, which destroys jobs and threatens our health and safety.

I am sure I do not need to remind you of the horror stories from countries where fake cough medicine and life-saving drugs have killed hundreds of people. Nor repeat the details surrounding contaminated milk which killed several children and sickened thousands more. These examples are stark warnings of the menace that is not out there somewhere, but moving ever closer to us in our daily lives.

So what will this Observatory do?

Essentially it is a four pronged approach

The first, and perhaps the most important role of the Observatory will be to gather information. Information, as we all know, is power. We talk a lot about counterfeiting and piracy, but do we know the exact, scale and the scope of the problem? Do we know how many jobs are lost due to the purchase of fake goods? Do we know how many lives are affected? Do we have specific information on how many children are harmed every year because of contaminated milk or toxic toys? How many patients might die every month as result of counterfeited medical devices? Can we even guess at how much profit is falling into the hands of organised criminals? And do we know how many companies are closed because of IP thefts?

The answer all of these questions is: NO, we don't.

There are very few sources that provide accurate, global assessments of the phenomenon and of the threats we face. And the information we have is incomplete and fragmented, which makes it difficult to tackle and assess the problem accurately.

Moreover, there is a lack of common methodology in gathering data, therefore the information we have is often difficult or impossible to compare and contrast. Despite a great deal of hard work, many sectors, industries and companies have often tended to apply different measurement and analysis techniques tailored to their specific industry needs. Consequently, it has been impossible to pull the information together to provide an overall assessment.

At present the most robust and persuasive information at our disposal are our border statistics, but of course these can only represent a part of the overall picture. This weakness has been reflected by many experts. It has also been highlighted in the recent OECD report. Therefore, the foundation stone for the Observatory must involve filling the gaps in our understanding. This entails the development of a standard methodology we can all use for collection, analysis and reporting. Essentially, the Observatory will become a central European resource for gathering, monitoring and reporting information and data related to counterfeiting and piracy.

But to fully function it equally needs to act as a forum for stakeholders to exchange ideas, expertise and best practices. That is why the second core role of the Observatory is to create a platform to bring stakeholders together to exchange views and experiences and to share best practice. In this way we can make recommendations that will truly influence policy makers.

In this respect this Conference becomes the first meeting for this platform and we are very pleased that we have such a strong attendance of stakeholders. We look forward to hearing from you, particularly about your experiences and the successful strategies you use to fight counterfeiting and piracy.

Administrative cooperation is the third prong. The Observatory will be a vital vehicle for improving administrative cooperation between Member States. In many cases a variety of different authorities have responsibilities in combating fakes. We need to make sure that resources are not wasted and that Member State representatives have an opportunity to meet on a regular basis, to exchange views and share best practice. In this respect National IP offices have an important role to play and we are very glad that their representatives are here today to highlight what they are already doing. Their practices and experience need to be shared with other offices in Member States and it will be an important task of the Observatory to make this happen.

The fourth role of the Observatory will be to raise public awareness. I cannot over emphasise the necessity to concentrate on how we can enhance the public understanding of the growing dangers presented by fake goods. Does Madame Smith, for example, know that when she is buying a cheap copy, she is indirectly sponsoring organized crime and supporting child labor? Does she know that the fake handbag or sports shoes could have been made by children, under ten years of age, held in a sweat shop somewhere in south east Asia, or that the person they are buying from is an illegal immigrant who is living in slavish conditions? I am afraid the answer to these questions is again NO. So we need to win the battle for consumers' minds. And we need to make people understand that buying fakes brings criminality closer to their own doors. The Observatory will have a great deal of challenging work in this area.

In practical terms, the Observatory will bring key players together on a regular basis. In order to drive the work, the Commission will soon be asking Member States to appoint one representative from the national authorities, and one representative from national industry, to participate.

To facilitate this task, it would be extremely helpful if all industry stakeholders were part of pan-industry, anti-counterfeiting and anti-piracy organisations, at both national and EU-level. This would build up the liaison route with policy and law makers. It would also help to disseminate and share information, raise public awareness and even coordinate joint operational enforcement actions.

There is no doubt that collaboration and cooperation requires the help of external experts. Through this association the Observatory will gather resources and share knowledge. It will then target the threats and put practical strategies and structures in place. The Observatory will, of course, be accountable and transparent. Annual reports will be published, which will be the primary method of communication, identifying vulnerabilities within the EU, highlighting challenges and threats, and gauging progress. Other benefits will follow, the publication, for example, of reports on specific problems such as health and safety.

Apart from the creation of an Observatory, the Commission has commenced several other important initiatives. Sellers, service providers, rights owners and consumers have a common interest in ensuring trade is safe and reliable. Therefore, we have to create an environment that will allow stakeholders from a wide range of sectors to discuss and find practical solutions to long standing conflicts. This could result in valuable, voluntary industry agreements. A stakeholder dialogue on the sale of counterfeit goods has already been launched. The first meeting took place last week and has confirmed the willingness of all concerned to engage in constructive dialogues with the aim of finding practical solutions. Other dialogues may be launched in the future, in areas such as illegal downloading of protected copyright material.

Ladies and Gentlemen, to sum up, given the increasing size of the problem, no single business organisation or national authority is going to crack counterfeiting and piracy on its own. Our success relies on collaboration, common efforts, and hard work. I am sure that, together, we have the expertise, tools and frameworks to tackle this problem and I particularly look forward to the outcome of the discussions from the panels today.

Thank you very much for your attention.

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