According to a shocking new assessment by Europol and the EUIPO, counterfeits worth approximately € 85 billion are being imported into the EU every year and destroy over half a million jobs. New developments in the distribution of counterfeit goods could lead to a further devastating increase in the future.

In their latest situation report, experts from the European law enforcement agency, Europol, and the EUIPO (European Union Intellectual Property Office) have concluded that in the future, freight trains could play a significantly larger role in counterfeit trading. At the moment, sea routes are still the most important transport method for counterfeit goods from the Asian region, however, in light of the continuous expansion of the trans-eurasian freight train routes, a change towards railway transport should be expected.

“As rail freight services between the EU and China become more numerous and efficient, it is thought likely that increasing numbers of IPR-infringing consignments may arrive at the eastern EU external borders by train from where, if they are not intercepted, they could then travel throughout Europe.”

A deciding factor in this shift away from sea transport routes is the significantly shorter shipping time of moving freight by rail: while an ocean container travelling from China to Europe may take up to six weeks to complete the journey, freight trains can cover the approximately 12,000 km distance between Beijing and London, for example, in ca. 18 days, around half the time. In total, 39 railway routes currently connect the East-Asian country with Europe. In addition to the English capital, the German cities of Duisburg, Hamburg, Leipzig, Ludwigsburg, Munich and Nuremberg for example can be reached directly by freight trains from China.

So far, the number of rail freight border seizures in the EU has been very low with only 12 cases in 2014 and 2 in 2015. However, as China continues to be the most important exporter of counterfeit goods to the EU, the experts are advising caution. “The rail solution would appear to be a logical choice for many counterfeit consignments. Rail connections could offer concrete advantages to international intellectual property right-infringing criminal networks, and should be kept on the radar.”

Of late, the global focus on other forms of crime, such as terrorism, has led to a lessening in the fight against product and brand piracy. However, the experts warn that IP crime remains one of the most lucrative forms of criminal activity and is usually very closely linked to other types of crime. Apart from counterfeits being imported, Europol and EUIPO have found that fakes are also produced directly in the EU, with fraudsters often using imported labels and components.

In conclusion, the EU authorities expect the complexity of the manufacturing and distribution of counterfeit goods to increase. The current status report on piracy in the EU advocates a holistic approach in finding and carrying out solutions, with all stakeholders closely cooperating. Therefore, it is intended to inform legislators, law enforcement authorities, manufacturers as well as consumers about current trends and developments.

Sources: Europol, Securing Industry