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Counterfeit goods in daily Malaysian lives – How Malaysia fights back

Most often the news broadcast on counterfeiting in Malaysia are usually associated with branded goods. This disease has now plagiarized Malaysian soil and as a consequence, its consumers have repeatedly been exposed to the “ill-gotten fruits” of counterfeits in their daily lives as these items are now circulating in the form of essential products used on a daily basis.

The Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry’s enforcement division, through their relentless raids in pursuit of these types of goods, have identified imitation products such as batteries, sauces, motor oil, engine oil, toothpaste, detergent and canned food, to name a few.

To surmount this problem further, counterfeit items such as traditional health products and medicine such as Panadol and Viagra and highly concentrated “codeine “products were also discovered to be circulating amongst public.

It is clear that anything that has a demand and potential to be copied would invariably attract infringers to resort to reaping profits through producing similar counterfeit items which would then be sold to ‘blind’ and ignorant consumers.

As a result, most people are unable to differentiate the fake from the original, and the former are openly sold at the same price as the original, and in certain circumstances these products are even displayed side by side on sales counter shelves in many shopping outlets.

A raid in Penang, a northern city in Malaysia this year unveiled the seizure of a machine that resembled the size of a photocopier, which was used to manufacture counterfeit Panadol tablets. Tests conducted by the National Pharmaceutical Control Bureau revealed that the main ingredient used in making of these fake medicinal tablets was merely plain wheat flour!

Recent media reports also highlighted cases which involved the seizure of imitation medicines worth RM391,455 (USD172,000) this year alone, compared to products seized that were worth an estimated RM55, 000 (USD22,264) in 2005. This whopping statistical increase would have a negative influence on commercial activities involving the trade of pharmaceutical products. More importantly this problem would definitely pose a serious threat to its society’s public health. The escalation of this dilemma is never ending. It would inevitably result in tarnishing the country’s IPR image portrayed internationally and affect the image of genuine products, particularly to foreign traders and investment concerns who would be aroused with suspicion.

In additional to causing danger to public’s health, counterfeit engine oil and automobile parts and accessories which are sold to motorists are not only “fake” in nature but are manufactured without conforming to the prescribed safety standards imposed by the associated authorities. One would seriously question the consequences of using these products as it would certainly provide no guarantee to the safety of consumers. Is the death toll involving accidents are merely coincidental, or do these imitation products contribute to this hike?

Besides counterfeit daily goods which are used for everyday consumption, other goods such as ink, stationery, cigarettes, leather goods, electronic goods and telecommunication products are now rapidly being copied and sold to the public. These goods have been cleverly imitated to the extent that some of them come along with a warranty card, and passes off as the original in the consumer’s naked eyes.

Counterfeit items have also affected the lifestyle of most Malaysians, as there are instances of counterfeit liquor being sold as branded alcohol at local pubs and entertainment outlets. This counterfeit liquor is nothing more than a home-brewed concoction of mineral water, caramel and sub-quality liquor. During a recent raid in Kuala Lumpur, enforcers seized 1,000 bottles of adulterated liquor amounting to RM50,000. The syndicate believed to be involved in the illegal brewing was arrested and the brewing equipment was seized as well. Further investigations are presently undergoing to determine the reach of this network in the Klang Valley.

Malaysia has so far placed a very a priority on the eradication of this problem due to the potential hazardous impact it would have on the commercial trade sector, the seriousness of risk it would pose to the safety of the public and the negative economic implication the nation would portray to foreign investment. They however acknowledge the lack of expertise in identifying and distinguishing the fake from the original. In combating this epidemic, the Ministry also relies on complaints made by manufacturing companies and owners of the affected products.

In an effort to eliminate the above, Intellectual Property (IP) Owners in Malaysia could undertake identification and acquisition of these counterfeit item(s) through trap purchases and proceed with investigations and enquiries to obtain the information and details of the source of these counterfeit products.

Upon obtaining the relevant information to substantiate their case, the affected IP Owners then could work out a strategy while working together with the Ministry by conducting raids and issuing Cease and Desists letters with the view to initiating legal action through the Malaysian Courts to obtain the account of damages for lack of compliance.

Alternatively, IP Owners could also liaise together with the Ministry under the Trade Descriptions Act 1972 Order by obtaining a trade description order which would empower the Ministry to effectively seize goods imported, exported and traded within the country. Those caught for producing counterfeit products, upon conviction is liable to a fine of RM100,000, while companies can be fined up to RM250,000.

Malaysia is definitely on the right track in tackling this negative syndrome by relentlessly conducting raids in seizing these counterfeit products before reaching to the masses. Constant awareness pogrammes on the negative consequences via media channels to educate public have been launched by authorities to deter innocent and unassuming consumers from being preyed upon by illegal syndicates. More importantly, the government has also stepped up its efforts in enforcing IP rights through its various IP related campaigns, e.g. the recent Malaysian IP day that was ceremoniously launched by the Prime Minister nationwide, which would definitely underline its focus towards the role of IP not just domestically, but also boost confidence in the international arena as well.