We have to do our bit in the war on fakes

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 January, 2011, 12:00am

Intellectual property rights are usually on the agenda whenever Chinese officials meet Western counterparts - as is likely when presidents Hu Jintao and Barack Obama hold talks in Washington on Wednesday. Each year, untold amounts of mainland-made name-brand fakes flood into the wider world. Foreign companies complain that their inventions are being misappropriated as the nation thirsts for technological independence. Accusations abound and the government has to make some efforts to stop the scourge, but it is not the only one that has to take action: it is a matter for all of us.

Customs officials and police are on the front line of the fight. It could be argued that this is using taxpayers' funds to do the work of wealthy companies - but we all have a stake in property being protected. Still, those same firms also have an obligation to do their part. They have to ask themselves why there is a demand for cheap knock-offs of their products. Perhaps it is because of price; or maybe there is an issue of quality.

Then there are the fakes that are made to resemble genuine items and packaged and priced accordingly. Importers and retailers have a duty to keep these off shelves. Sometimes, though, the copy has been so cunningly produced that it is difficult to tell the difference. Laws have to make clear who should pay compensation.

Ultimately, though, it is those who create the demand for fakes who bear the most responsibility. That is the buying public. We are not all at fault - surveys show that those most likely to buy cheap imitations are young, have low incomes and are brand-conscious. Community vigilance through letting such people know what they are doing is wrong helps fight the problem. China has made great strides, arresting more than 4,000 people and seizing 2.3 billion yuan (HK$2.7 billion) in fake goods since a campaign began in November. It has shown a willingness to toughen the fight by seeking greater international co-operation. But with fakes rampant everywhere, it is clear that just the tip of the matter has been addressed. Only all involved working together will make illegal imitations disappear.