Fake Rolex® watches, knock-off Armani® handbags, counterfeit Nike® shoes, pirated movies of all sorts—if you’ve traveled to any countries that have lax trademark, patent, and copyright protection, you’ve seen plenty of faked goods. It’s pathetic, to say the least. The companies that make the original item lose out on sales, and risk losing some credibility because poor-quality copies are detrimental to the company’s image. Depending on the product, consumers put themselves at risk. Finally, at the risk of sounding overly righteous, the companies that make the counterfeits are just taking the lazy way out, rather than innovating to develop new products or improve existing ones. If everyone took the easy way out, we’d have never innovated our way out of the Stone Age. It’s hard to find a winner here.
It wasn’t that long ago that the biggest markets for fake goods were small shops, kiosks, and push-carts in countries in which enforcement was sloppy (or nonexistent). Globalization is changing all that. "The Counterfeit Report™" explains how this huge problem is growing:
"Internet sites and online auction sites including Amazon Marketplace and eBay are swamped with real-looking counterfeit or "knock-off" merchandise, while Chinese websites openly and freely advertise bulk counterfeited national brands for sale. These Chinese products often make their way to secondary retailers, swap meets and websites whose sellers often promote them as "genuine" or "100% authentic," then disappear after the sale. Counterfeiting even extends to wines. Counterfeit wines are so prevalent, that expensive wine bottles are now being smashed to prevent them from being refilled and re-sold to unsuspecting consumers."
Purchasing a poor-quality product sounds bad—nobody wants a flimsy tennis racquet, a baseball bat that splits, or shoes that don’t last—but taking a substandard medication casts the problem in an entirely different light. Would you want to risk taking a drug that was ineffective, or worse, harmful? The website http://thecounterfeitreport.com/ has more disturbing news. Bell Helicopter reports that scores of helicopters that are supposed to be out of service may have had unauthorized repairs and might be out there right now, ferrying passengers around. Flying under the best of conditions comes with some risks; who wants to compound those risks by sharing congested airspace with potentially faulty aircraft?
The good news is that the website is set up so that manufacturers—the legitimate manufacturers—can provide information on how to determine real products from counterfeits. Bell provided the serial numbers of the helicopters in question, and others provide product details to look for.
The report estimates that this is a $700 billion industry. This is larger than the gross domestic product of all but 24 countries in the world (smaller than Netherlands but larger than Thailand). Eliminating this problem would be next to impossible, but vigilance and cooperation can help to reduce it. If you’re an equipment distributor, buying consumables and accessories from only the OEM or trusted (and verified) sources will help. If you’re a consumer, beware of online retailers, auction sites, and the like. If you’re shopping in the secondary market, keep an eye out for shoddy workmanship, logos that don’t look crisp and sharp, and anything that just doesn’t look quite right.
And if someone invites you to go for a ride in a helicopter, check the serial number.