The Council of the European Union in Brussels adopted last month a new customs action plan against counterfeiting for 2009-12. It has two main aims: the protection of the health and safety of consumers, and the protection of innovation, economic activity, competitiveness and jobs. The council has four major foci in its fight against counterfeiting: that counterfeiting is perceived as dangerous for public health, the increasing implication of organized crime in counterfeiting, the globalization of counterfeiting, and the crucial concern of counterfeiting on the internet. Indeed, the fight against the sale of fakes over the internet is a new priority.

The action plan calls for the establishment of a new European observatory, which is being launched today to evaluate the extent of the piracy going on and to analyze its patterns in order to identify the actions that should be taken to combat it. Yet given the differences that exist in attitudes toward counterfeiting among the European Union’s 27 member states, the likelihood of tangible results seems somewhat remote.

Worldwide, the turnover of counterfeit goods represents around 10 percent of global trade, according to Bernard Brochand, the president of France’s national anti-counterfeiting committee, the CNAC. The number of counterfeit goods seized at French customs increased by 45 percent during the first 10 months of 2008 compared with the same period in 2007. Aside from tobacco, textiles – especially branded products and sporting goods – shoes and leathergoods are most affected by counterfeiting, followed by fragrances, cosmetics and hygiene products, which represented 9 percent of fake products by the end of October 2008.

The counterfeit goods came primarily from Asia, confirming the leading role of China as a producer of fake products. Another development in counterfeiting is the surge of e-commerce, with 148,000 counterfeit products seized in the course of postal shipments generated by e-commerce.

Luc Chatel, France’s secretary of state for industry and consumption, called the fight against counterfeiting a strategic battle that can prepare for future growth during the current economic downturn. Several initiatives have already been taken in France y Chatel and Eric Woerth, France’s budget minister, in coordination with the CNAC, ahead of a European Forum on Intellectual Property Protection due to be held in a Paris suburb on Apr. 7-8.

One of these is the creation of a «cyber-customs» nucleus composed of 15 agents. Another is the development a protocol of commitments between e-commerce platforms, holders of intellectual property rights and consumer associations.

Chatel has put Brochand and Pierre Sirinelli, professor of private law and criminal sciences, in charge of this action plan, which may lead to a European consumer-oriented campaign. A review will be made in May and the conclusions will be drawn next September.