Bottom Line
Culling out the counterfeits
House bill, trade groups take aim at dangerous phony products targeting U.S.

By Jami Jones
staff editor

Counterfeit products are anything but a cheap way around paying for the real thing.

Phony products account for between 5 and 8 percent of all goods sold worldwide, according to the Motor and Equipment Manufacturers Association.

Bootleg items can be almost anything anymore. In fact, CBSnews.com reported that the automotive industry has turned up enough counterfeit products to actually build a car.

While knock-off name brand tennis shoes may just be a style and trademark infringement issue, counterfeit automotive products especially pose a real danger to those who use them. These fake products are being bought, and even sold, without anyone spotting them. And perhaps most disturbing of all, these look-a-likes are not subjected to quality control or safety testing.

“First and foremost, product counterfeiting undermines U.S. and foreign safety standards, putting consumers at risk,” said Paul Foley, president of MEMA’s Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association.

Years ago counterfeiters stayed away from the heavy-duty market because of the narrow supply chains and the industry’s overall familiarity with the products, according to MEMA information on counterfeiting. But since counterfeiters have gotten better at forging their fakes, it’s getting tougher to tell the real thing from the phonies.

Truckers now have to watch out for everything from lights that aren’t quite bright enough to brake pads made of compressed grass.

The culprits
The top three origins for seized counterfeit products

China Taiwan Hong Kong 
Source: Motor and Equipment Manufacturers Association

Help on the horizon
There may be some hope in the future to help protect consumers who unknowingly are victims of the continued growth of counterfeiting.

The U.S. House unanimously passed HR32, the “Stop Counterfeiting in Manufactured Goods Act,” May 23. Rep. Joe Knollenberg, R-MI, introduced the bill. The bill has been forwarded to the Senate.

The manufacturers’ association and its members helped craft the legislation and gain support for the resolution. Attention now turns to the Senate Judiciary Committee to act.

“We are very pleased the House of Representatives has passed HR32, and we intend to continue our hard work to obtain passage of the legislation in the Senate,” Foley said.

HR32 amends the U.S. criminal code to provide trademark owners with the same protection now afforded to holders of copyrights and trade secrets. The bill mandates both the destruction of the counterfeit goods and the forfeiture of any assets traceable to illegal counterfeiting activities. It will also permit the courts to order the forfeiture of any property/equipment used to aid in the commission of the violation, such as tooling, raw materials and packaging supplies. The bill also prohibits trafficking in counterfeit labels, patches, stickers, hangtags or medallions.

PROTECT YOURSELF
While the legislation to tighten up laws against counterfeiting continues through Congress, MEMA offers some tips to protect you from the potentially dangerous phonies.

  • Need help? Is there a customer service number on the packaging? If not, more than likely, it is a counterfeit product.
  • Consider the source. Where does the product come from? If it says “Made in the U.S.A.” or “Made in Taiwan,” check out the manufacturer’s Web site or call the customer service line and see if that’s where it’s really made.
  • • Know your distributor. If you’re buying parts out of the back of a truck in a parking lot, well, they are probably not the real thing.
  • Money talks. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Details, details, details. Does the lettering on the package of that familiar brand look slightly off? Is the brand name spelled correctly? Are the part numbers and codes accurate? If not, it’s probably not the real deal.
jami_jones@landlinemag.com