Showing posts with label counterfeiting. Show all posts
Showing posts with label counterfeiting. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Chinese Counterfeiters: Experts at Gaming Complex Systems

It has been said that, in both fun and geopolitics, Americans play simple checkers, Russians play the more challenging chess and the Chinese play the most complex game of all -- Mahjong.

Undoubtedly, Chinese culture encourages and rewards skill at successfully navigating complexity.

Consequently, the Chinese counterfeiter is fluent and adept at using the inherent complexity of the international legal and technological system to hide financial assets, creating a confusing web of identities designed to mask illegal conduct through an elaborate web of anonymity and dead-ends.

The following is a classic "case in point" of just one such counterfeiter.

A Chinese national by the name of Lin resides in the city of Putian in the eastern Fujian province in the People's Republic of China.  

Putian has over 3 million Chinese nationals living and working, a testament to the thriving international trade in counterfeit goods, as much of this city is dedicated to serving that industry through manufacture and distribution.

He takes a genuine pair of Nike tennis shoes, disassembles them, studies the stitching, creates his own CAD design on a computer, and oversees the production of 10,000 counterfeit pair using a cheap labor force, completing and shipping the order within a matter of days.  He can sell 3,000 of the goods for $15,000, and markets the remaining inventory of 7,000 pair for $50.00 per pair on the Internet.

The factory that Lin works in is a nondescript building with a street address that might be associated with several dozen other companies.  The entity that Lin manages might be called "Fujian Sneaker and Shoe Trading Company Limited," a Hong Kong-based limited liability company, at least on paper.

But if one were to actually order and translate a copy of Fujian Sneaker and Shoe Trading Company Limited's corporate documents on file in Hong Kong, one would not find any evidence of Lin or the Fujian factory.  Rather, an unknown individual named "Jing Kim" might be listed as the company's sole owner, along with a business address in Beijing, one that has no clear ties to Lin's factory.

Furthermore, assume that Lin's counterfeit goods are openly sold to customers and distributors on a commercial website associated with the Internet domain name

This domain name could have easily been registered by Lin's assistant for under $10 through an ICANN-accredited registrar in China such as Chengdu Fly-Digital Technology Co., Inc., and could be hosted for a few dollars a month, through a shared webhost such as  IPage's web servers are located in Sweden, far outside of the easy reach of Nike's aggressive intellectual property lawyers in Portland, Oregon.

This maddening maze of legal and technological complexity affords Lin virtual anonymity as he deposits the sum of $15,000 that the Italians paid for his sneakers into one of many bank accounts that he owns at the Agricultural Bank of China.  He will put the remainder of the profits generated from the Internet sales into a different account.

This bank is ideal for Lin, as it has dozens of domestic branches throughout mainland China, but also maintains overseas institutions in Singapore, New York, Seoul, Sydney, London, and Tokyo, allowing Lin easy access to his funds when he travels abroad.  

Of course, because each international institution claims to be a technically separate legal entity, Lin isn't particularly concerned that any of his accounts are exposed to potential foreign creditors, such as Nike, even if one of any of those accounts could somehow be connected to his workplace.

Of course, no one account is listed in connection to any company that has a clear legal relationship to Lin.

If one were to even begin to try to untangle the international maze built by Lin, it would take hundreds of hours and tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees and investigative expenses, with no one account containing more than $15,000 in it.

All told, Lin's ninety-two accounts at this bank alone total assets of over $1,000,000, mostly generated from the manufacture and distribution of fake sneakers.

You see, Lin's desire is to someday move to the United States and buy real estate and start his own fashion brand.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

China Viewed as America's "Greatest Enemy" in Gallup Polling Data

A recently released Gallup World Affairs poll surveyed Americans, asking them to name the United States' greatest foreign enemy.  More Americans viewed China, not Iran or Russia, as America's greatest threat.

A majority of those polled (52%) apparently view China's growing economic power as a "critical threat" to the "vital interests" of America into next decade.

Eight years ago, 31% of Americans viewed Iran as the USA's "greatest enemy," compared with 16% today.  China's unfavorable ratings have held relatively steady in Americans' minds, despite the announcement of historic reforms late last year that would shift China's economy to a more consumer-driven model.

In 1979, when Gallup first gathered responses to these questions from a representative sample of Americans, China's GDP was not even one tenth that of of the United States. That year, nearly two out of three of Americans polled reported that they saw China favorably.  

Today, China's meteoric rise has led a majority of Americans (52%) to report China as the world's leading economic power. Further, many Americans are beginning to view China's growing military strength and newfound economic power as a threat to U.S. strategic interests.

Gallup notes that in 1959, President John F. Kennedy gave a speech, noting that when written in Chinese, the word "crisis" is composed of two characters, one representing danger, the other representing opportunity.  Americans clearly see the potential for danger in China, but it is worth noting that commercial trade with China continues to grow, creating opportunity as well. Since China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, America's trade with China has grown dramatically.  

However, many U.S. government officials have openly criticized Chinese currency manipulation policies and tolerance of counterfeiting as well as human rights abuses.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

TradeKey Found Liable for Contributory Counterfeiting

In a strongly-worded decision issued by a California federal district court judge this week, the owners of were found liable for contributory counterfeiting and placed under a permanent injunction.

TradeKey is a multinational company with offices in Saudi Arabia, China and Pakistan, which claims to be one of the largest and fastest growing online business-to-business (B2B) marketplace that connects small and medium businesses across the globe for international trade.

For an annual fee of $519, wholesale sellers and distributors can set up customized accounts on TradeKey, offering thousands of items for sale to businesses in bulk quantities.  TradeKey also solicits its wholesale buyers and distributors worldwide to become "premium" members, which costs $3,000 annually.

TradeKey had garnered something of a reputation for being a retail counterfeiters' supermarket.

Undercover investigators working for Richemont became premium members, and were contacted by TradeKey's sales representatives.

When the undercover investigators (posing as wholesale distributors) asked TradeKey's sales representative if there was any problem with selling counterfeit luxury goods on the TradeKey website, the sales representative replied that it was "not a problem," and further said that "as far as the replica industry is concerned it's one of the businesses that we rely on to get us a whole lot revenue."

The investigators also were able to purchase numerous counterfeit goods from a variety of sellers on TradeKey.

Richemont filed suit in Los Angeles federal court against the individual sellers (who defaulted by not defending themselves), but also against TradeKey and its various corporate owners, alleging that they were contributorily liable for counterfeiting.

Essentially, Richemont's lawyers alleged that, by knowingly aiding and abetting the sale of counterfeit goods and receiving a direct financial gain from doing so, TradeKey's owners should be held liable for the sellers' conduct.  Richemont moved for summary judgment against TradeKey and won.

Notably, based on the written decision, it is clear that TradeKey's legal defense was an unmitigated disaster.

TradeKey's lawyers first tried to argue that the undercover investigation was "sloppy" and not credible, suggesting that technical defects in chain of custody forms injured the investigators' credibility.

The Court roundly rejected this criticism, finding that the goods that where purchased were clearly counterfeit and the results of the investigation was very persuasive.

Further, TradeKey alternatively tried to argue that the sales representative "clearly misunderstood the term replica."  The Court found this argument wholly unpersuasive, as it was "undermined by the plain language of his [own] statements, their context" and the fact that the investigators posted multiple listings for counterfeit goods using the term "replica," all with TradeKey's clear knowledge.

TradeKey also even tried to argue that counterfeit products don't cause any consumer confusion, because those consumers purchasing the spurious goods in bulk essentially knew the goods were fake.

Ultimately, the Court rejected all of these arguments, and found that TradeKey had known about widespread counterfeiting activity that was taking place on its website, and found that TradeKey had permitted it to continue in order to unlawfully profit.

Consequently, TradeKey was found legally responsible for the conduct of its counterfeit sellers, and a Court order was entered that permanently prohibits any seller on the site to sell goods bearing the Plaintiffs' counterfeit trademarks.

What lessons can be learned from this important decision?  

First, other trade boards similar to TradeKey should stop harboring counterfeiters.

Second, conducting a thorough undercover investigation before filing litigation is the paramount way to gather evidence.

Third, as a matter of legal strategy, if you are a lawyer defending a client with a difficult factual record, pick your best single legal argument and stick with it.

Attacking the credibility of reputable undercover investigators and simultaneously trying to claim that your client didn't know what the word "replica" means, is not likely to sustain your credibility with the Court, especially when combined with obviously silly arguments such "the sale of counterfeit goods doesn't cause consumer confusion."

Such a tactic will likely anger most judges and won't give you a very strong appellate record if you lose.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Do Cutting Edge Anti-Counterfeiting Technologies Really Work?

These are not science fiction topics.  They describe recent developments in anti-counterfeiting technologies that are capturing mainstream news headlines for their creativity in tackling a trillion dollar a year problem facing many industries, ranging from pharmaceuticals to children's toys to military hardware.

The primary purpose of these developing technologies is to assist brand owners with better detection of counterfeit products as they infiltrate the supply chain.

For example, recent studies have discovered a "flood" of fake military hardware components making their way into the U.S. armed forces' vehicles and planes.  The safety threat posed by substandard military grade parts is unimaginable.

Using the new technology, if military hardware components are counterfeit, they will not possess the correct embedded plant DNA, which can be detected with a special inspection tool.

Similarly, the pharmaceutical industry can use edible bar codes to allow for easier tracking and authentication of pills and verification of drug packaging.  Spending by pharmaceutical companies in the anti-counterfeiting tech marketplace is predicted to exceed $1B per year in coming years.

But, while they are clearly effective at detecting counterfeits, are these cutting edge technologies addressing the deeper issues behind the continuing scourge of fake products?


Because no improvements in DNA-based detection technology can change this simple mathematical equation:  When profits routinely exceed investment, there will be a steady supply of fake products.  Fakes require no research, development or marketing to succeed.  Rather, by passing off a fake product to consumers, a $10 investment can yield $100 in profit, with little or no likelihood of prosecution or penalty.  

This return on investment (ROI) exceeds that of trafficking in the narcotics trade, with less chance of being murdered by the competition or sentences that include decades in a federal penitentiary.

While advanced detection methods are part of the brand protection puzzle, international laws and norms clearly need to become increasingly effective, to deter and punish counterfeiting once it is discovered.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Tory Burch Gets Tough On Fakes

Today, Tory Burch got tough on fakes. The designer's company filed four new lawsuits against companies allegedly dealing in counterfeit Tory Burch products.  

WWD reports that four cases all deal with manufacturers and wholesalers of jewelry featuring hardware identical to the brand’s trademarked “TT” logo. 

Their legal team described the four cases as separate but “interconnected”, and chief legal officer Robert Isen emphasized that the designer has “long been vigilant in defending [its] intellectual property, and will continue to take counterfeiting and copyright infringement seriously.”

In all four cases, Burch is seeking “unspecified damages and injunctive relief.”  In other cases previously filed by Tory Burch, the defendants were cybersquatters, primarily based in China, and (as in most cases like it) only a portion of the damages were recovered by seizing PayPal accounts and other assets.

This time, the defendants include a California boutique, two New York-based companies, and a Chinese company with a New York showroom and frequent tradeshow presence, the latter of whom showed the spurious goods to a private investigator.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Online Currency Exchange Indicted By Feds for Laundering Over $6B

The operators of a global currency exchange ran a multi-billion money-laundering operation online, an Internet hub for criminals trafficking in everything from stolen identities to child pornography, federal prosecutors in New York announced today when an indictment was unsealed in federal court.

Liberty Reserve, the currency exchange, allegedly operated beyond United States and international banking regulations in what prosecutors call a shadowy netherworld of virtually anonymous cyberfinance.

Liberty Reserve traded in "virtual currency," and provided anonymous and accessible banking services increasingly sought by criminal networks, including counterfeiters, law enforcement officials claimed.

The charges were announced at a news conference by Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York.  The charges detailed a complicated system designed to allow people to move sums of money around the world with virtual anonymity, according to an indictment, which was unsealed in federal court in Manhattan today.

Over a seven year period, Liberty Reserve was allegedly responsible for laundering billions of dollars, having conducted over 55 million transactions that involved customers all over the world, including more than 200,000 in the United States, according to federal prosecutors.

Just as PayPal revolutionized how people shop online, Liberty Reserve sought to create a similarly convenient way for criminals to make financial transactions, law enforcement officials explained.

“As alleged, the only liberty that Liberty Reserve gave many of its users was the freedom to commit crimes — the coin of its realm was anonymity, and it became a popular hub for fraudsters, hackers and traffickers,” Mr. Bharara said at the news conference. 

“The global enforcement action we announce today is an important step toward reining in the ‘Wild West’ of illicit Internet banking. As crime goes increasingly global, the long arm of the law has to get even longer, and in this case, it encircled the earth.”

Liberty Reserve was incorporated in Costa Rica in 2006 by Arthur Budovsky, who renounced his United States citizenship in 2011, and was arrested in Spain on Friday. He was among seven people charged in the case; five of them were under arrest, while two remained at large in Costa Rica.

In addition to the criminal charges, five domain names were seized, including the one used by Liberty Reserve. Officials also seized or restricted the activity of 45 bank accounts.

Prosecutors cited “blatantly criminal monikers” used by Liberty Reserve clients, like “Russia Hackers.” Essentially, all a customer needed to open an account was an e-mail address.

While Liberty Reserve was incorporated outside the United States, federal officials used a provision in the Patriot Act to target the organization and other financial institutions with whom they conducted business. It was the first time the provision had been used to prosecute a virtual currency provider.

Liberty Reserve did not take or make cash payments directly and instead used “third-party ‘exchangers,’ ” according to the indictment. These exchangers would take and make payments, and then credit or debit the Liberty Reserve account, allowing Liberty Reserve to avoid collecting any banking information on its clients and not leave a “centralized financial paper trail,” the indictment also said.

The exchangers, the indictment said, “tended to be unlicensed money-transmitting businesses without significant government oversight or regulation, concentrated in Malaysia, Russia, Nigeria and Vietnam.”

The people who accepted Liberty Reserve’s currency were “overwhelmingly criminal in nature,” according to the indictment.

“They included, for example: traffickers of stolen credit card data and personal identity information; peddlers of various types of online Ponzi and get-rich-quick schemes; computer hackers for hire; unregulated gambling enterprises; and underground drug-dealing Web sites,” according to the indictment.