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Counterfeit imports worth up to $591B globally, OECD study finds

Imports of counterfeit and pirated goods, ranging from fake footwear to fruit, account for up to $591 billion a year, according to a reported released Monday.
Lawyer Lorne Lipkus on how to spot counterfeit goods 5:09

Imports of counterfeit and pirated goods, ranging from fake footwear to fruit, account for up to $591 billion a year, according to a reported released Monday.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development said the value of all imported fake goods worldwide in 2013 was roughly equivalent to the GDP of Austria, and accounted for up to 2.5 per cent of all global imports

Based on an analysis of half a million customs seizures around the world from 2011 to 2013, the report suggested that the situation has worsened since 2008, when an OECD study estimated that up to 1.9 per cent of global imports were fakes. 

The hardest hit brands are U.S., Italian, French and Swiss. As a percentage of the total value of fakes seized, about 20 per cent of the goods infringed on U.S. intellectual property. Italy was next on the list at 15 per cent, followed by France and Switzerland at 12 per cent each.

While products from popular brands, such as Nike shoes, Rolex watches, Louis Vuitton bags, and Ray Ban sunglasses, seem to be the most counterfeited items, the report said even trademarks on bananas and strawberries were infringed.

Lorne Lipkus, a lawyer with Kestenberg Siegal Lipkus LLP in Toronto and an expert on counterfeit goods, said he is not surprised by the size of the dollar figures in the OECD's report, and he expects the situation has only gotten worse since the time period of the study.

The problem is "huge" in Canada, he told Dianne Buckner, host of The Exchange on CBC News Network, adding that the country is a big transfer point for fake goods heading into the United States.

Most of the fakes originate in middle income or emerging countries, with China the top producer, being the source country for fake goods in just over 63 per cent of seizures in 2013.

"While China is the top provenance of fake goods, its most innovative companies also fall victim to counterfeiters," the OECD said, pointing out that 1.3 per cent of goods seized violated the intellectual property of Chinese producers.

"The findings of this new report contradict the image that counterfeiters only hurt big companies and luxury goods manufacturers," said OECD deputy secretary-general Doug Frantz.

"They take advantage of our trust in trademarks and brand names to undermine economies and endanger lives," Frantz said in a statement.

The report focused on physical counterfeit goods, which infringe trademarks, design rights or patents, and tangible pirated products, which breach copyright. It did not look into online piracy. It also didn't examine fakes that were not imported from one country to another.

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