Catching Trademark Infringement

I was slightly bothered by the article Faked Out: Looking for counterfeit goods, sheriff’s deputies go bargain hunting [via PCJM] and I’m not sure if it’s due to poor writing or poor policework. The article describes the efforts of police to track counterfeiting of brand-name goods, particularly clothes. But there are also many descriptions of ways in which items can be slightly altered to appear to be an original while not quite being trademark infringement. And it is very unclear in the article about what types of items the police are buying and trying to eliminate. Because if you’re really a brand-name snob, I don’t think a “Tipfany” bracelet or a “Barley-Davidson” belt buckle are going to fool anyone. I was laughing my ass off at Nike’s example of a manner in which trademark infringment can degradate brand identity:

Nike, a popular target among counterfeiters, has been copied in everything from fake sneakers to Nike-logo jewelry to Swoosh-embroidered yarmulkes. “We make performance product,” Manager says, “but a yarmulke’s not necessarily, with all due respect to the religious symbolism, a performance athletic product.”

It’s official people – we’ve become so scared of offending each other that Nike has to issue a disclaimer before saying that a yarmulke is not an athletic product.
But, to return to the heart of the article, maybe the police are focusing on real trademark infringment instead of the many iff-ier cases they describe, in which case I still wonder at the police spending their time on detecting and preventing this type of action. It seems like it should be covered more like copyright infringement and patent law, and pursued primarily through the courts. The justification of having the police track down counterfeit t-shirt rings?

Some authorities suspect that the trail might lead to organized crime syndicates and terrorist organizations. The International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition, a Washington, D.C.-based group that combats counterfeiting, reports that criminal groups originating in China, Vietnam and Northern Ireland have all sold counterfeit goods to support their activities. It also claims that the sale of fraudulent merchandise may have financed the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Though the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department has not focused on counterfeiting until recently, heightened concerns about homeland security prompted it to investigate. As the information came to us that there was the possibility that some of these type of organizations may fund organized crime or terrorist organizations, we became interested,” Peritz says. “We have yet to find an affirmative link in any of these [businesses] between organized crime or terrorist organizations.”

Shame on cynical me – I thought that the investigations were fueled by the industries who are “losing billions of dollars per year”. I suppose counterfeit products could be a huge industry, but I can’t avoid the mental image of a terrorist funding scheme driven by selling knock-off team logo clothing out of the back of a station wagon….

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