Dear Editor: Counterfeit goods are a threat to the economy and can kill

“The argument that counterfeit goods do no harm is immediately silenced when matters of life and death are quite literally in issue. Imagine being prescribed a certain pill at a certain dosage to treat your condition.

“Invariably, a counterfeit pharmaceutical will lack the essential compounds necessary to treat your condition. Or it may contain them in inadequate quantities or it may even be made entirely of sugar.”

The following Letter to the Editor, which highlights the problems posed by counterfeit goods, was submitted to Wired868 by Barrister & Attorney-at-Law Dr Emir Crowne, who is a Senior Lecturer in Law at The UWI’s Mona Campus:

Photo: Fake drugs present a real risk to consumers.

Counterfeit goods, we’ve all seen them and may even own a few. The Hermes belt that cost US$100, the Rolex that requires batteries, the rough-feeling Burberry tartan scarf, and the Versace tee-shirt purchased in the Croisee. All fake.


Where’s the harm you ask? What’s wrong with buying a piece of luxury at a fraction of the price? Well, counterfeit goods pose a direct threat to the consumer, to the local economy and to our ability to trade internationally.

Consider, for instance, the Office of the United States Trade Representative’s annual “Special 301” Report. It essentially lists countries that don’t enforce their intellectual property rights effectively (or, more correctly, don’t enforce their intellectual property rights in a manner that pleases the US).

The Special 301 Report is a blunt club that the US uses in bilateral and multi-lateral negotiations for bludgeoning offending countries. No country that values its trading relationship with the US wants to be on that list.

Counterfeit pharmaceuticals, in particular, are the “worst” of the counterfeits; they pose a direct threat to public health. The recent news that several pharmacies may be selling counterfeit pharmaceuticals is alarming.

Photo: Fake drugs can cost lives.

The argument that counterfeit goods do no harm is immediately silenced when matters of life and death are quite literally in issue. Imagine being prescribed a certain pill at a certain dosage to treat your condition. Invariably, a counterfeit pharmaceutical will lack the essential compounds necessary to treat your condition. Or it may contain them in inadequate quantities or it may even be made entirely of sugar.

To be clear, though, a counterfeit pharmaceutical is not a generic drug. A generic drug must establish pharmaceutical equivalence to a ‘brand name’ drug. Put simply, a generic drug must do the same thing that a brand name drug does; a counterfeit pharmaceutical, however, may not even be a pharmaceutical at all.

Consider another example: fire retardant suits. These suits are critical for fire-fighters, oil and gas workers and others. Counterfeit suits pose a direct threat to the safety of those workers if the thread used for sewing them is not fireproof.

A common tactic in the counterfeiting world is to source seemingly authentic parts (like fabrics, zippers, etc), but then assemble the final product using inferior thread, workmanship and the like.

To their credit, the Trinidad and Tobago Intellectual Property Office has been pro-active in educating the relevant agencies about the importation of counterfeit products. In January of this year, they held a training session in anti-counterfeiting for Customs, Police and other enforcement agencies.

Photo: Fake Nike slippers.

However, greater funding, coordination and awareness is needed, especially when it comes to linking issues of public health, trade and intellectual property rights. All of which affect us as citizens in our day to day lives.

In closing, I should note that Thursday (26 April) is World Intellectual Property Day. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this special day seeks to highlight the importance of intellectual property rights to our everyday lives (most notably, in the form of patents, trademarks and copyright).

In a nutshell, patents protect inventions, trademarks protect brands and copyright protects creative work such as music, art and film. This year’s theme is “Women in Innovation and Creativity.”

The recent developments surrounding counterfeit pharmaceuticals is but one example of why World Intellectual Property Day was created by the World Intellectual Property Organization, a specialized UN Agency, in the first place.

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