Building firms should front up to the fakers

Counterfeit building products are flooding the market throughout the Middle East. Governments could do more to solve the problem, but isn’t it time for legitimate firms to start taking the fight to the fraudsters themselves? Angela Giuffrida reports.

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By  Angela Giuffrida Published  December 3, 2005

BUILDING product manufacturers are being urged to step-up their fight against the counterfeiters. The problem of fake products in the market is set to get worse, unless companies plough money and resources into tackling the problem at source and exploit the legal avenues open to them. That is the claim of the Arabian Anti-Piracy Alliance, a company that works alongside manufacturers to track down trademark fraudsters. The warning comes as importers are flooding the GCC construction market with fake products. And some have become so cunning that only subtle differences distinguish a fake product from a genuine one. Many traders are even mixing consignments of original products with fakes, packaging them under the original manufacturer’s trademark and then selling them at a cheaper price. Dubai’s open market has become a victim of its own success, says Scott Butler (pictured), the chief executive officer of the Arabian Anti-Piracy Alliance (AAPA). “The main indicator of counterfeit is price. Knock-off products may merely have a package that looks pretty much the same as the original, but when it comes to counterfeits, it’s total product infringement. Traders in the UAE are known to organise the delivery of counterfeit goods, like lighting and electrical components, from places like China and are mixing them in a box with the original consignment. Usually only 25% of the consignment will be genuine.” AAPA has worked with companies including ABB and Assa Abloy to try to counteract the problem, but Butler says that manufacturers could be doing much more to address their own issues. “It’s a constant battle to fight fraudsters — everything nowadays is counterfeit and everyone seems to be demanding that the government focuses on their problems. “Fortunately, the UAE police are actively involved in ruling out piracy and those caught do face criminal litigation. But if companies do not dedicate financial resources to combating counterfeiters, the problem will only get worse.” There are systems in place in the UAE that companies could be making better use of to protect their products and brands, according to Edward Hardcastle, a lawyer at Rouse & Co International. These include protecting trademarks through registering them with the Dubai Municipality Certification Service and filing complaints with the Department for Economic Development, which specialises in consumer and commercial development and has the authority to punish counterfeiters without going to court. Hardcastle says that companies should be adopting their own anti-counterfeit policies and procedures, including ensuring that all their intellectual property is protected. “A lot of companies complain without actually trying the systems that are in place. They say that the government should cure the problem but they should adopt their own system for taking action against counterfeiters and protecting their own intellectual property rights.” Rouse & Co has dealt with several cases of counterfeit products within the UAE construction industry, including door locks, circuit breakers, water heaters and cement. “One counterfeiter was making bags of cement using a well-known brand and then filling them with fake cement. All of this was put together in Dubai,” says Hardcastle. One way companies could address the problem is by assessing their product pricing structure, he adds. “The building industry has a clear-cut safety concern, with the prime concern to protect the end user. Top products tend to be priced out of the market and encourage counterfeiters [into action].”

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