With the financial support from the U.S. Embassy in Skopje, AmCham Macedonia recently partnered with the National Coordinative Body for Intellectual Property Rights Protection (NCBIPR) to create a traveling, interactive exhibition featuring counterfeit cosmetics, drugs, personal hygiene items and other similar goods found on the local marketplace. The items were selected for their potential impact on consumer health and informational leaflets were distributed to visitors on the potential health effects of such goods, how to identify them and what to do if a good is suspected to be counterfeit. In order to reach a large number of consumers, the exhibition visited 5 of the country’s largest cities, one each week throughout October 2013. The outdoor stands were staffed by inspectors from the State Market Inspectorate, one of the key institutions in the country’s fight against the counterfeit trade.
While Macedonian laws are largely in line with EU Directives in the IPR sphere, there is a great deal of public apathy with respect to illegal practices such as counterfeiting. The common attitude is that such practices are necessary in poor countries – in other words, counterfeiters provide an important public service by making cheap alternatives to global brand names available. AmCham Macedonia’s IPR committee (made up of company representatives from the whole range of IPR-impacted spheres) thought it was important to help dispel this myth by highlighting the negative impacts that counterfeit goods can have on consumer health.
The key messages we wanted consumers to take away were:
1. Almost anything can be counterfeited – including medicines, food and beverages and condoms;
2. Counterfeits are not always harmless – in addition to being made from cheaper, less effective materials, they can lead to allergies as well as other side effects and unexpected interactions; and
3. Potentially dangerous counterfeits are a local problem – consumers here should be proactive and report suspected counterfeits to authorities.
The campaign was also a chance to highlight the institutions responsible for protecting consumers from these products. Many institutions in Macedonia bear part of the burden – the main ones being the State Office of Industrial Property, Customs Administration, State Market Inspectorate, Ministry of Interior and the court system. The NCBIPR was formed in 2009 to help facilitate cooperation between institutions, however, the body’s ability to influence key decision makers to prioritize and properly fund their IPR-related work is limited. While some institutions – particularly the Customs Administration – have taken impressive initiative in this area on their own, most have not.
By supporting awareness raising events like this one, the business community can show its interest in this important issue. Without such attention, IPR protection is likely to remain a low government priority, meaning continued losses for legitimate businesses and consumers alike. The irony is that government institutions themselves are one of the biggest losers in the current state of affairs, since significant tax revenues are forgone each time counterfeits are sold.Category: Advocacy News