Sat, Dec 10, 2005 - Page 2 News List

IPR police tackle counterfeit artists

NEW FORCE An alarming increase in fake luxury goods nationwide has prompted the new Intellectual Property Rights Police to broaden their activities to the Internet


After three solid knocks on a ground-floor apartment door in the rundown Wanhua district in south-western Taipei City, a hooded figure appears and gingerly opens up.

An official-looking piece of paper is thrust through a gap in the door before a team of four police officers storm into the house.

Within seconds a large number of fake Rolex and Breitling watches have been confiscated and another counterfeit-watch gang has been busted.

The raid is the latest by the nation's new Intellectual Property Rights Police (IPRP), inaugurated last year as part of the government's efforts to crack down on the illegal reproduction of anything from luxury goods to pharmaceuticals.

Detective Bai Shen-xiong and his IPRP team from Xindian City (新店市), who cover the entire Taipei City, were responsible for the bust after a two-month undercover oper-ation that started on the Internet.

The cyber-trained Bai tracked down the two suspects who were using an Internet portal site to advertise fake luxury watches.

Using the Internet to sell their wares online is a common way for copycat watchmakers to try and dodge the law.

"But they always leave a trace, such as an address, which has to be given to the company providing the Internet connection service," Bai said. "If they use their own address because that's where the computer is operated from, as in the Wanhua case, it is not hard to find them."

In this case, the police bought some watches online to make sure they had enough evidence for a warrant to search the suspect's given address.

This time it was easy.

The problem for Bai is that the nation's criminals are using ever more ingenious ways to avoid capture. Providing Internet-cafe addresses is one common method, while bigger gangs use Web sites operating in China.

The eight IPRP squads are focusing their attention on the big cities, where they typically investigate over 100 new counterfeiting cases a month.

These range from small-time operators to manufacturing sites that churn out thousands of fake DVDs.

Results seem to be impressive despite the rise in counterfeiting activity. In the first half of the year 2,259 instances of intellectual-property infringements have been recorded, an increase of 17 percent compared with last year.

A total of 798 suspects were arrested, marking an increase of 52 percent compared with the previous year, with as many as 309,191 music CDs confiscated.

"Improvements have definitely been made with regards to the special police force," said John Eastwood, a lawyer with Wenger & Vieli in Taipei.

"They are doing a good job catching the criminals," he said.

But the arrests have mostly involved small operations and lower-level gang members.

"We must move up the food chain if we are to succeed in stopping counterfeit crime," said Vick Liao, commander of the IPRP.

But it's not just about catching the big fish. Multinational companies in Taiwan and lawyers complain that although the dedicated counterfeit police are doing a good job, the judicial system is letting everyone down.

Judges in Taiwan have been reluctant to recognize fake consumer goods as a serious crime that warrants stiff penalties, according to Audrey Liao an attorney with law firm Lee and Li in Taipei.

The majority of prison sentences are for less than six months, with most counterfeiters opting to pay fines of less than NT$30,000 (US$900) to avoid a jail term.

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