"If there is one thing that we all recognize, it is that intellectual property crime is a problem of global dimension," said U.S. Department of Justice Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer in late September, at the 2011 International Law Enforcement Intellectual Property Crime Conference.
Every time an individual, or a group of individuals manufacture, sell or distribute counterfeit brand-name goods, or pirated content such as CDs and DVDs, they steal from the owners of the trade mark or copyright. As such, they are committing intellectual property, or IP, theft.
Most people associate IP crime with luxury consumer goods, or branded clothing and footwear. But the range of products that are subjected to counterfeiting is enormous. From medicines and health-care products, to pesticides, tobacco and alcohol, electronics or electrical products such as hair dryers or chainsaws, even spare auto and airplane parts -- anything that can be sold for a profit to an unwary customer, can be counterfeited.
It is an enormous industry that causes tremendous damage to legitimate businesses, due to loss of sales and diminished brand value. But it also poses serious risks for consumers through dangerous goods like fake medicines and poor quality electrical products, as well as counterfeit alcohol or cosmetics containing dangerous substances.
"Recognizing the potential economic rewards offered by IP crime, and perceiving – incorrectly – the risk of getting caught or facing significant penalties as minimal, transnational organized criminal enterprises have increasingly turned to IP crime to increase their illegal profits. ... In our global economy, no country is immune from the scourge of IP crime, and each of us must be able to depend upon the others to catch and deter IP criminals," said Assistant Attorney General Breuer.
"In the United States, we are working hard with our foreign law enforcement allies to reduce the global supply of pirated and counterfeit goods, and to strengthen IP enforcement capacity internationally," he said. "Effective enforcement starts in each of our home countries, and gathers strength through international coordination and cooperation. Let us continue moving forward in this fight, united by our common purpose to protect our respective nations’ intellectual property and hold IP criminals to account for their conduct."