Counterfeit products aren't worth the savings

Russ Kratowicz, P.E., CMRP, says piracy, fakery and bogusity have become all too common in the maintenance world.

By Russ Kratowicz, P.E., CMRP

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This is about counterfeit products and intellectual property rights. In 2008, the United States Customs Office reported on seizures of counterfeit products. The document claims that counterfeit electrical products are in the top five categories, seizures were 43% greater than 2007, and most of the fakes came from China and Hong Kong. One strategy is to sell the knockoffs, not in the country that produces them, but in countries to which the legitimate versions are being exported. That way, the fakes can wreck the manufacturer’s export market. But, as you’ll read, fake electrical stuff isn’t the end of the story. Other aspects of your daily life are at risk. Remember the bit about Chinese-made pet food spiked with melamine?

You might have heard the term “grey market.” Goods so defined aren’t necessarily illegal or inferior. A perfectly qualified company can make a perfectly good product and sell it perfectly legitimately, but outside the OEM’s normal distribution channels. That’s perfectly legal, an example being privately branded products, house brands and generic pharmaceuticals. To get a bit closer to the bottom of the matter, we’re going to root around in the muck we call the Internet in search of some credible, practical, zero-cost, noncommercial, registration-free resources that will help you fend off the fakery that is inexorably closing in on us. Remember, we search the Web so you don’t have to.

From Washington and beyond

Our government is concerned about fake parts, too. It recognizes that the mere presence of counterfeits in the supply chain that your plant uses has a deleterious effect on the magnitude of federal tax revenues. So, we rely on, among other entities, the United States Patent and Trademark Office to help keep tabs on international fakery. The department’s Web site, www.uspto.gov, is your portal to an extraordinary amount of information about patents, trademarks and copyrights. After you get grounding in these basics, you can perform a site search on the word “stop,” which links you to another program called Strategy Targeting Organized Piracy (STOP!). If you want to skip the trip to the patent office, you should go to www.stopfakes.gov directly. Here, you’ll be able to read about measures taken by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the European Union to intercept counterfeits at the borders. If your company exports products, you might find the so-called country toolkits listed on the site to be of special interest. These are links to our embassies’ Web sites in Brazil, Brunei, China, Egypt, European Union, India, Italy, Malaysia, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Russia, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. Part of the content on each is information about patents, trademarks, copyrights and piracy. You might need to enter the word counterfeit in the search box if the info isn’t posted on the linked page.

The insurer’s view

It’s all about public safety, a social good that pirated components might ignore.

FM Global, Johnston, R.I., the international property insurance and loss-prevention engineering company, quite logically also has an interest in keeping fake components out of the industrial facilities that it insures. The whole business of insurance is about risk and gambling on an outcome. When things really heat up at the plant, for example, the last thing you want to discover is that your installed base of bogus fire protection hardware might prove incapable of serving its intended purpose. This shared interest prompted FM to show you how to identify fakery in the components that affect insurance matters. It’s a sure bet, though, that if you go to www.fmglobal.com and enter the phrase “certification marks” in the search box, it will return a link called “FM Approvals - Certification Marks/Usage.” That link opens a page that has more links to digital images of the official marks that indicate honest products. You might want to forward this information to your receiving dock and your purchasing department. And before you leave, go back to the home page to click on “Approved standards” at the lower right of the screen. That’s where you can download any of the many standards that FM has developed during its more than 174 years of existence.

Going public

The Anti-Counterfeit Products Initiative was launched during a panel discussion on Oct. 6 at the 2008 National Electrical Contractors Association's Annual Convention and Trade Show. The online report describing the initiative offers an opinion about the source of most counterfeit electrical hardware and highlights the ever-escalating measures that Underwriters Laboratories has been forced to use to assure the public that any component displaying the famous UL label is genuine. For example, UL has been using holographic labels for more than 16 years. The article, posted at www.pr-inside.com/print910451.htm, correctly points out that everyone in the supply chain, including end users (that’s you), have a responsibility to avoid introducing fake electrical components into the distribution system. The consequences of apathy can be catastrophic.

Another article that popped up during the research for this column is “The China Challenge” by John Paul Quinn. The article, a joint effort by Electrical Contractor and TED magazines, gives the mid-2008 dollar breakdown of the items that U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized and offers a reason that the country most responsible for undermining the capitalist system through violation of intellectual property rights won’t be brought to bay any time soon. That is pretty powerful stuff. This article is only one of many posted to the Web site operated by Anti-Counterfeit Products Initiative mentioned above. If you’re concerned about bogus products, you really should pay a visit to www.counterfeitscankill.com. There are some big names in the industry sponsoring this single-focus site that’s loaded with more information than I can highlight here. Visit – it will be worthwhile.

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