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January 30, 2014

3 Min Read
Brand Security -- North Carolina Secretary of State’s Office actively combats counterfeiting

In the May issue of PD, this column revealed that enforcement is one of the most significant tools in the battle for brand security. In North Carolina, the Secretary of State's Office provides an excellent example of how one state government is actively combating counterfeiting. Over the past several years, the office has taken a leading role in the fight against counterfeit trademarks in North Carolina, heading up and assisting in enforcement actions to seize counterfeit goods wherever they are sold—from flea markets and roadside stands to boutiques, warehouses and the Internet—making the state unfriendly territory for product piracy.

In 2006, the North Carolina Secretary of State's Office helped take counterfeit goods with an estimated retail value of $8.1 million off the state's streets. In the first five months of 2007, Secretary of State investigators have worked 111 counterfeit trademark cases and have seized fake goods worth more than $2.3 million. All of this with a staff of just two full-time trademark enforcement investigators to cover the entire state. However, those two officers do have considerable "backup" from local law-enforcement agencies across the state.

In 2004, the office established the North Carolina Anti-Counterfeit Trademark Task Force to train local law-enforcement officers to spot knockoff products and coordinate enforcement actions across their traditional jurisdictional boundaries. The taskforce has grown from 10 officers in 2004 to a current team of 31 local and state officers, with many more getting taskforce training in how to conduct their own anti-counterfeit enforcement actions.

North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine F. Marshall notes that the focus on interagency coordination has been an overwhelming success. "We're seeing such an incredible response from local law enforcement, ranging from the willingness to work together with state and federal investigators, as well as other local agencies, to the increased awareness of trademark violations as a serious crime," she says. "We now routinely have local officers who may raid a location for some unrelated crime and immediately recognize when there are likely counterfeit trademarked goods on the premises as well."

Marshall says that working such cases also helps make the case in local jurisdictions for the active enforcement of trademark laws. "I think that seeing items like pirated DVDs and counterfeit designer jeans alongside a cache of illegal drugs or weapons has really driven home the point for a lot of officers," she says. "There is increasing awareness that the same criminal avenues that bring in those knockoff Prada handbags and designer clothes one day also can bring in physically dangerous knockoff electrical extension cords, fake pharmaceuticals or counterfeit baby food, not to mention illegal drugs or weapons. That's why a zero-tolerance policy for counterfeit goods is so vitally important. That point is truly hitting home now for more and more local law enforcement agencies and more district attorneys across North Carolina largely because of the work of the taskforce."

The North Carolina Secretary of State's leadership and the success of the North Carolina Anti-Counterfeit Task Force have also caught the attention of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which recently picked North Carolina to play host to the first of a national series of forums focusing on the danger and the cost of counterfeiting and product piracy to the U.S.

For more information, visit Secretary of State Elaine F. Marshall's website at www.sosnc.com.

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