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James A. Morrissey, Washington Correspondent

Apparel Group Sees Major Intellectual Property Problems

By James A. Morrissey, Washington Correspondent

The American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA), Arlington, Va., has written the US Trade Representative charging widespread intellectual property rights violations in 12 countries stemming from weak laws, lack of enforcement and outright fraud.

Noting that its members manufacture and sell their products throughout the world, AAFA President and CEO Kevin Burke said: “Strengthening intellectual property protection around the world and ensuring the effective enforcement of IPR [intellectual property rights] in foreign countries is essential to maintaining the global competitiveness of US companies.” Offending countries listed in the letter are Brazil, Chile, China, Costa Rica, South Korea, Mexico, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, Taiwan, Thailand and Venezuela.

Charging that China accounted for 81 percent of the total value of infringing products seized by US Customs last year, Burke said that country is “at the top of the list” of violators. He said IPR infringements in China “run the gamut” from counterfeit labels and packaging, manufacturing of counterfeit products, retail counterfeit trade and trademark violations. He said corruption continues to be a problem; and he called for many reforms, including border control and Customs training, as well as legal process reform and more resources devoted to evidence gathering.

He cited South Korea as a “high priority level” and called for a strong IPR chapter in the pending US/Korea Free Trade Agreement negotiations.

A common thread ran through the allegations against other countries, including manufacturing counterfeit products, false labeling and packaging, lack of tough laws, sketchy enforcement of what laws do exist, lack of border enforcement and corruption. In virtually every country, Burke said, the governments are not dedicating enough resources to address intellectual property problems.

Burke commended US government officials for their enforcement efforts, which resulted in record seizures of illegal products in 2006, but he said “there is still much more to be done.”< /font> February 27, 2007