UAE authorities are using new technology and improved intelligence to expose criminal gangs trading billions of dirhams in counterfeit goods.
For years, cheap copies of genuine brands have been sold in markets and shops across the Emirates and around the world.
From cut-price cosmetics to leather goods and spare car parts, illegal networks have been making huge profits from the less discerning shopper.
But now experts are working to crack down on the battle against fakes, seizing counterfeit products and arresting traders.
According to the Department of Economic Development in Dubai, the value of fake goods recovered in 2018 amounted to Dh332 million, a significant drop from Dh1.6 billion in 2016.
And as inspection campaigns increase and technology becomes smarter, fewer products are making it to retailers’ shelves.
“The UAE is very proactive in fighting the trade of fake goods and we are seeing the results,” said Hatem Abdel Ghani, partner at The Legal Group, a leading law firm in Dubai.
“The quality of counterfeit items is improving day by day [but] the UAE is collaborating with global brands and using technology to identify genuine from fake.
“It is important that brand owners, legal teams and government entities continue to collaborate to combat this illegal trade.”
The global trade in counterfeit goods is currently estimated to be worth $509 billion dollars annually.
A report released by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development earlier this year said the majority of products are seized up in customs checks in mainland China and Hong Kong.
But other "major points of origin include the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Singapore”, the OECD said.
While trade in counterfeit goods has risen steadily in recent decades, governments are tightening regulations to curb the issue.
This year, the DED in Dubai introduced new artificial intelligence technology to identify counterfeit luxury goods.
Using the device, inspectors can detect fake products with higher speed and accuracy, eliminating time-consuming verification checks with trademark representatives.
During a workshop held under the patronage of the Ministry of Economy in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, TLG offered training to Abu Dhabi Police and Customs officers on how to spot counterfeit products.
Indicators included missing or identical serial numbers, untidy or incorrectly coloured packaging and traces of glue.
The law firm also offered insight into the UAE’s war on counterfeits.
In 2017, Coty, one of the world’s biggest cosmetics brands and a client of TLG, worked with authorities in the Emirates to seize a number of fake products.
Of the 1.1 million individual pieces seized in the Europe and Mena region, more than 341,000 were prevented from reaching consumers by UAE authorities.
They included make-up kits, perfumes and skin care items from brands under the Coty umbrella, including Sally Hansen and Rimmel.
“Over the past few years, the UAE has been the most proactive in the region when it comes to seizing counterfeit products infringing on the Coty name,” Mr Ghani said.
“In 2016, more than 633,700 cosmetics falsely linked to the company were seized in the UAE, and in 2015, 617,000 products were taken off the market.”
Speaking to The National, Aisha Al Dhaheri, legal researcher at the MoE said authorities need to be constantly updated on the methods criminal gangs try to use when peddling counterfeit goods.
“Today, the Ministry of Economy participated in this workshop to showcase how the UAE has made great efforts to protect the Intellectual Property rights of main brand owners in the country.”
Since 1973, more than 20,000 trademark applications have been approved by the Ministry.
“We regularly update rules and regulations around trademark and copyright registration and by continuing to protect brand rights in the country has encouraged more trade and investment over the years."
Trade in fake goods creates profits for organised crime gangs at the expense of companies and governments.
But aside from the economic impacts, fakes of items like medical supplies, car parts and toys carry a range of health and safety risks.
“The use of counterfeit products like medicines and cosmetics can have a devastating impact on a consumer’s health,” Mr Ghani said.
“We have to fight the process on three levels. Governments need to tighten trademark regulations, brand owners have to be more proactive about taking legal action against gangs and consumers need to increase their awareness.”
TLG's global brand protection team works closely with customs, police and the DED to “protect authorised products and fight counterfeit [goods]”.
“We collect information about criminal operations by working hand-in-hand with our global brands, like Toyota and Coty,” Mr Ghani said.
“Once we have solid information about each activity we file an official complaint with authorities, they then take it forward.”
Last year, the law firm assisted in a number of raids in Dubai and Sharjah.
Two busts carried out in collaboration with Dubai Police resulted in the confiscation of 8,400 counterfeit perfumes. Further investigation revealed the supplier was located in China.
And during a routine surveillance at a popular Sharjah market, more than 20,300 counterfeit perfumes were seized from a trader’s warehouse located in the city.