Industry group says smartphones could help slash growing trade in counterfeits

Smartphones can help slash the booming trade in counterfeit products, according to a new report. [EURACTIV.com]

Smartphones could help slash the amount of counterfeit products that are sold in Europe, according to a new report.

Industry groups that lobby for tighter rules to clamp down on counterfeiting argue that consumers should use their mobile phones to help chip away at the growing amount of fake products that are shipped to Europe.

Shoppers can scan barcodes on products in stores to verify whether they’re authentic and spot counterfeit items if a company has registered where fakes are for sale. A new report from the Coalition Against Illicit Trade, an industry group that promotes anti-counterfeiting measures, argues that companies should cash in on the growing popularity of smartphones and use new technologies that will help shoppers spot counterfeits on their own. The organisation is made up of ten European companies that make technology to help firms track their products and reduce counterfeiting.

The number of counterfeit products shipped to the EU from outside the 28-member bloc has dramatically shot up over the last few years. Almost half of those products are sent from China.

Several industries have been hard hit by the rise in counterfeits. Pharmaceutical companies in the EU lose a total of €10.2 billion each year, according to a recent study from the European Union Intellectual Property Office.

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More than 40 million products—worth a total of around €650 million—were seized at EU external borders in 2015, 15% more than in 2014.

Most companies use technologies like barcodes to mark their products and track them as they are shipped and sold.

A survey of UK shoppers found that more than a quarter of them want to use smartphones and apps that read barcodes to verify whether the products they purchase are real.

Smartphones can also read images and pick up on watermarks that are often printed on packing to mark a trademarked product.

The coalition’s report said that other technologies to verify whether a product is counterfeit are still likely to become available in the coming years, including near field communication that allows devices to communicate with each other.

Smartphone use has exploded in the last few years. In 2015, 57% of people in the EU between the ages of 16 and 54 used a mobile device like smartphones, laptops or tablets to connect to the internet, according to Eurostat figures. In 2012, only 36% of that demographic used mobile devices.

Because smartphones are so popular, companies that lobby for measures to stamp out counterfeiting argue that if they can make consumers aware of how to check products when they shop, the devices can potentially slash the sales of counterfeit products.

If product tracking technologies that can be read through smartphone apps become widespread, it will become “harder to circumvent for counterfeiters and allows for real-time feedback on authenticity, even in the absence of any security element”, according to the coalition’s report.

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