Fake battle gets real

The Life: Most people immediately think of knock-off bags or poor quality pirate DVDs when it comes to fake goods. But counterfeiters copy a whole host of items.

Tina Rose, an anti-counterfeit programme manager for aftermarket sales at HP, says counterfeiting is a monster. Ravindranath K / The National
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Most people associate fake goods with poorly copied designer handbags or pirated DVDs.

But counterfeiters today are copying a host of other items as well, including toys, and the result can be more serious than a broken strap or skipping movie.

"If you think of children's toys made with material that can be harmful to human beings, like lead or mercury or paint … It's very dangerous," says Abdulla Hasayen, the chairman of the Brand Owners' Protection Group (BOPG) and anti-counterfeiting manager for the Middle East and Africa region at Nokia.

Food and pharmaceuticals are other sectors in which counterfeiters are playing copycat with dangerous consequences. Fake drugs, for instance, do not contain many of the ingredients they claim to have and, in some cases, include dangerous elements.

"When it comes to pharmaceuticals it gets more serious because when the patient buys the product he assumes it is of a certain quality and it solves a certain problem," says Mr Hasayen.

Even seemingly innocuous counterfeit toner cartridges can be harmful, observers say.

"I have had the toner and ink on my hands and my skin starts to burn afterwards," says Tina Rose, an anti-counterfeit programme manager for aftermarket sales at HP. "With fake toners you usually get a big cloud of dust because they haven't sealed them properly, so [who] knows what you're breathing in."

And there is no doubt that counterfeit goods are harmful to the bottom line of companies, too, which is one of the reasons why they plough so much money into tackling the problem.

HP works closely with the authorities in the Middle East, Africa and eastern Europe, where most fake toner and ink cartridges are sold. In the past four years it has helped local law enforcements in the region to seize almost 9 million counterfeit HP products from the market.

"We have a very good relationship in Dubai with police and the Ministry of Finance, and that's why we've been able to seize so many products in Dubai, Ajman and Sharjah in the last few years," says Ms Rose.

"If you view counterfeit products as illegal competition that means we have helped our partners and retailers who sell our genuine products to operate in a much more fair environment by removing those counterfeit products from the market."

HP has also introduced features to its cartridges and toners to help shoppers determine if they are genuine. If a fake product is loaded into the printer, customers are automatically routed to the HP website, which shows them what to do.

But improved security labels on packaging will make it even easier for shoppers to determine if a product is genuine before they buy it. From February, the holographic security label on toner products will include a barcode that people who own smartphones can scan using a free app. Those who do not own a smartphone can visit a website and enter a code to check whether the product is legitimate.

Organisations such as the BOPG work with authorities to raise awareness about the issue. But companies admit it is a difficult problem to deal with. "Counterfeiting is a monster. You cut one hand and another one grows," says Ms Rose.

"No one will ever get rid of counterfeiting. It's not possible, so what we have to do is be realistic about what we can do and we have to apply the resources."