The distribution of counterfeit products has increased during the pandemic. This is what emerges from the latest evaluation of the threats of crimes against intellectual property, drafted jointly by Europol and the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO). The health crisis has provided new opportunities for the trade in counterfeit and pirated goods, and criminals have adapted their business models to the new global demand.
The report, based on data from across the EU and operational information from Europol, confirms that counterfeiting and piracy remain a serious threat to the health and safety of consumers, as well as for the European economy. According to the latest data from the OECD and the EUIPO, imports of counterfeit and pirated products reached €119 billion in 2019, representing 5.8% of all products entering the EU.
In addition to the categories of clothing and luxury items seized counterfeit products, there is a growing trade in counterfeit products that can harm human health, such as counterfeit medicines, food and beverages, cosmetics and toys.
In recent years, more and more counterfeit pharmaceutical products have been detected, ranging from various medicines to personal protective equipment or masks. Distribution has almost completely shifted from physical markets to online markets, raising public health concerns.
These illicit products still largely come from outside the EU, but can also be produced in illegal laboratories within the EU, which are difficult to detect and can be established with relatively few resources.
The production of illicit food products, and especially beverages, has become more professional and sophisticated, with some counterfeiters spanning the entire supply and distribution chain. Violations of protected geographical indications also continue to be widely detected.
The report also shows some key trends in various product sectors that are the main target of counterfeiters. Clothing, accessories and luxury goods remain the most common counterfeit product categories, sold both online and in physical markets. They are among the main categories of counterfeit items of the approximately 66 million products seized by EU authorities in 2020.
How criminal networks operate
The threat assessment highlights that the distribution of counterfeit products is largely based on digital platforms, a trend that has been reinforced by the pandemic and widespread online consumption. Counterfeit products are offered in online marketplaces, through live broadcasts, videos and advertisements on social media platforms, as well as instant messaging services, often attracting customers’ attention through misleading discounts or discounted products. brand at low prices.
Counterfeiting is a highly lucrative activity for the criminal networks involved, who make huge profits while relatively little risk. IP crime is considered as one of the EU priorities in the fight against organized crime and serious crime from 2022 to 2025, within the framework of the European multidisciplinary platform against criminal threats.
The assessment underlines that although the majority of counterfeits on the EU market are produced outside of Europe, mainly in China and other parts of Asia, domestic manufacturing within the EU is trending upwards. The increasing import into the EU of counterfeit packaging materials and semi-finished products clearly points to the presence of illegal production facilities in the EU. Established criminal networks in Europe involved in IP crime distribute imported counterfeits and, in some cases, have modern production facilities where they assemble the semi-finished products