Britain's Anti-Counterfeiting Group (ACG) has called for tougher sentences and redirection of seized assets amid claims hundreds of criminals involved in counterfeiting may be escaping prosecution because of trading standards' lack of resources.

The group, which represents nearly 200 manufacturers and distributors of branded products, firms of trade marks and patent agents and solicitors, made its claim following the release of a survey into trading standards departments by a legal expert.

The study by Dr Andrew Clark, a senior lecturer in law at the University of Warwick, found that while the number of persons convicted for intellectual property offences has risen steadily from 1997 to 2001, the number of persons convicted declined in 2001.

Data from the Home Office and the Office of Fair Trading also indicates that the average fine for intellectual property offences is significantly lower than the average fine for other types of trade description offences.

In his report, Dr Clark concludes: "The decline in the number of prosecutions for intellectual property offences appears to reflect the growing perception within trading standards departments that the resources required to bring prosecutions, particularly in more serious cases, are disproportionate in comparison with the deterrent effect of sentences imposed following successful prosecutions."

Speaking at the watchdog's annual conference in Warwickshire on Thursday, ACG executive secretary John Anderson called for the government to allow assets seized from convicted counterfeiters to be given to the local trading standards team instead of the Treasury.

He added: "This report confirms our fears that while trading standards departments are valiantly fighting the fight against counterfeiting, their efforts on the streets are being undermined in the court room.

"It is imperative that magistrates and judges realise the seriousness of intellectual property crime, particularly the way in which it is woven into a network of serious organised crime. According to the National Criminal Intelligence Service over two-thirds of drug traffikers are also involved in product counterfeiting, which is no wonder when one considers the low risk versus high return that criminals can make from counterfeiting."

Mr Anderson also called for legal costs to be awarded to the appropriate trading standards department instead of the local authority in general.

To view related research reports, please follow the links below:-

The Protection of Trademarks and Copyright in China: Law and Practice

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