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EU Governments Endorse New Action Plan to Combat Infringements of Intellectual Property Rights

On 9 October 2018, EU governments approved a new EU customs action plan to combat infringements of IPR. The new action plan will cover the years 2018 to 2022.

In the new action plan, the Council raises concerns related to the risks counterfeit and pirated goods may create for the health and safety of consumers and end-users and to the environment, in addition to the economic and social consequences related to the dissemination of such goods. The Council also stresses its objective to strive for a high level of protection of the EU internal market by means of modern and harmonised approaches to customs controls and of customs cooperation, in particular to avoid trade diversion within the EU. In this respect, the Council also recognizes the need to provide customs authorities with the necessary tools to successfully address new trends in the international trade of goods infringing IPR.

While the trafficking of IPR infringing goods is a global phenomenon, the impact of counterfeiting is felt to be particularly high in the EU, with counterfeit and pirated products amounting to up to 5% of imports, or as much as EUR 85 billion. In 2016, the customs enforcement of IPR in the EU resulted in over 41 million articles detained.

The four strategic objectives of the new action plan are the following:

  • Ensuring effective customs enforcement of IPR throughout the Union;
  • Tackling major trends in the trade of IPR infringing goods;
  • Tackling trade of IPR infringing goods throughout the international supply chain; and
  • Strengthening cooperation with the European Observatory on infringements of IPRs, and law enforcement authorities.

In concrete terms, these four strategic objectives are split up into the following eleven “specific” objectives:

  1. Tools for proper and efficient implementation of Commission Implementing Regulation 2018/582 concerning customs enforcement of intellectual property rights;
  2. Enhancement of the central database COPIS, which is an EU-wide anti-counterfeit and anti-piracy information system used by the customs authorities, and exploiting the full functionality of COPIS;
  3. Engaging rights holders & stakeholders;
  4. Annual publication of statistics;
  5. Developing tailor-made approaches for parcel and postal traffic;
  6. Strengthening Customs Risk Management;
  7. Strengthening cooperation with key source, transit and destination countries;
  8. Supporting capacity building in candidate and neighbouring countries on IPR enforcement;
  9. Partnership with the European Observatory on infringements of IPRs;
  10. Improving mutual understanding and cooperation between customs, police and judicial authorities; and
  11. Tackling trade of IPR infringing goods throughout the international supply chain.

These eleven “specific” objectives are then converted into 25 concrete actions. For each of the 25 actions, the Council has indicated the relevant “indicators” and “responsible actors”.

For example, one of the 25 concrete actions is the following: “Support visit to all Member States by a team composed of IPR experts and the Commission with a view to focus on identified problems and challenges in IPR enforcement by customs to ensure a proper and efficient implementation of the EU Regulation”. The indicators which the action plan has linked to this action are the following: (1) “Visits performed, problems and challenges discussed and advice provided where appropriate”; (2) “Detected problems are followed-up and capacity building plans established where necessary”; and (3) “Regular discussions in the meetings of the Customs expert group Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement Section on the problems and challenges and how they have been tackled”. Both the Commission and the Member States are responsible for this action.

Another concrete action is “raising awareness on the link between unsafe and substandard goods and IPR infringements”. The indicator linked to this action is the following: “Outcome of the ongoing Study of the Observatory is brought to the attention of customs administrations. Customs administrations make use of the information as appropriate.” The responsible actor for this action is the European Observatory on infringements of IPR, in cooperation with the Commission and the Member States.

This plan builds on the previous 2013-2017 Action Plan, during which Member State customs administrations and the Commission are said to have already deployed significant efforts to address the challenges associated with the customs enforcement of IPR and curb the influx of IPR infringing goods into the EU. Amongst others, during the past four years, cooperation with stakeholders and third countries has already been reinforced through the EU Observatory.

However, an evaluation of the 2013-2017 Action Plan shows the need for further developments in order to ensure effective customs enforcement of IPR throughout the EU, and the experience gained from the implementation of the 2013-2017 Action Plan also highlights the need for some adjustments. Besides these adjustments, the new action plan also contains some core elements of the 2013-2017 Action Plan that remain valid and must be further deepened and implemented.

The EU governments represented in the Council have asked the Commission to prepare a roadmap on the implementation of the new action plan by Spring 2019, to monitor the implementation of the action plan, to submit annual summary reports on such implementation to the Council and to submit to the Council a final report on the implementation of the action plan in 2022.

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