Les publications dans la protection intellectuelle

Les initiatives de la Suisse face au constat préoccupant de la contrefaçon

With the covid-19 pandemic and the resulting rise in online shopping, the market in counterfeit
goods continues to thrive, as can be seen in the growing number of consumers mistakenly
purchasing counterfeit goods. Last year, nearly one out of 10 European consumers accidently
purchased a fake product. Many popular online platforms are used as distribution channels,
however some companies are now taking pre-emptive measures against fraudsters, for
example Amazon has reported that only 6% of attempted account registrations passed its
verification process in 2020.
The impacts of counterfeiting can be extremely harmful, from consumer safety to job losses,
lower revenues and disincentivising innovation. As far as the industry is concerned, the
reputation and therefore the value of a brand is put at risk when it is associated with substandard
counterfeit products. Taken in this context, it comes as no surprise that tackling
counterfeiting has been included in this year’s European Union’s Council of Ministers’ top 10
priorities in the fight against organised crime.

Switzerland is not immune to this illicit trade. According to a joint OECD EUIPO 2019 report, it
is among the countries most affected by counterfeiting, ranking fourth based on the value of
global customs seizures of counterfeit and pirated products from 2014 to 2016. A new report
OECD IPI report published in March 2021 shows how harmful the global trade in fake Swissmade
products is to Swiss industries, namely in the fields of watchmaking, electronics,
mechanical engineering and metal, consumer goods and pharmaceuticals. The total value of
the global trade in fake goods that infringed Swiss intellectual property rights was as Sfr 7
billion in 2018, equivalent to 2.3% of all genuine Swiss exports. Watches are by far the most
commonly counterfeited items – 48% of the total value of Swiss counterfeit products. Other
Swiss products commonly faked include clothing, leather products and footwear. China, Hong
Kong, Turkey and Singapore are the top provenance countries, not forgetting Turkey and the
United Arab Emirates for fast-moving consumer goods, and India for pharmaceuticals.

The Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property (IPI) is actively working to combat
counterfeiting. The IPI monitors the key Swiss export markets, including China, and intervenes
in suspected cases of misuse. It is also worth noting the work of STOP PIRACY, a non-profit
organisation founded by the IPI, that educates and raises awareness among consumers, as
well as promoting cooperation between the business community and the authorities across
national borders.

From the industry’s perspective, the topic is high on the agenda of the affected companies.
The Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry is one active stakeholders, with more than 450
members.

Companies are taking advantage of new technologies to combat counterfeiting, as illustrated
by famous timepieces being assigned digital identity certificates using blockchain. Buyers
receive an e-warranty card to prove the authenticity and ownership of the timepiece through a
QR code. AI proves useful for detecting counterfeits online, although it remains a struggle to
prevent the infringing websites from reappearing. For SMEs, which represent more than 99%
of Swiss companies, cost barriers tend to deter said companies from seeking legal assistance.
Unfortunately, too often it is said that the damage has less cost impact than the action that
would be necessary to prevent it.

As to the legal framework, Articles 13 (paragraph 2, 2bis) and 71 of the Trademark Protection
Act prohibits the manufacture, sale, import, export and transit of counterfeit goods into and
through the Swiss territory, commercially or by private individuals. Legal action can be taken
before a counterfeit is even placed on the market, as long as a sign has been affixed to the
goods in question. The possession of a fake product for private use is not prohibited.

The modus operandi of the border enforcement is stipulated in depth in the legislation (Articles
70 et seq). As a prerequisite, a brand must be registered as a trademark in Switzerland. If this
condition is met, an application for assistance can be submitted to the Federal Customs
Administration (FCA). The request is registered within approximately one month and is valid
for two years. The trademark owner is notified of any seizures and given 10 days – a deadline
which can be extended once and for the same period if justified by circumstances – to confirm
that the goods are counterfeits. Failing this, the goods are released. Otherwise, the goods are
retained by Customs, which will ask the goods declarant, holder or owner to consent to their
destruction. Consent is deemed to be given if no express objection is made within the
prescribed period. Alternatively, criminal or civil proceedings should be initiated early on. The
same rules apply to designs, copyrights, patents and indications of source.

For large consignments of suspicious products, the authorities can prosecute the infringers ex
officio. If the offence is recognised, the consequence may be up to five years of imprisonment
or a penalty of up to Sfr 1,080,000.

For small consignments, legal adjustments are being considered to introduce a simplified
procedure of destruction. As is the case at EU level, it is proposed that these so called ‘capillary
imports’ would be destroyed without preliminary notification given to the trademark owner
except where the goods declarant, holder or owner would have objected to the destruction.
The law is currently being finalised at the IPI for submission to the Federal Council in the next
few weeks. The latter will in turn submit it to the Parliament for debate, which is expected to
start before the end of this year.

It is also worth noting that the FCA is undergoing a fundamental transformation with the goal
of modernisation and digitisation of the whole body.

A last word about the struggle with parallel imports as this particularly affects Switzerland,
especially the fast-moving consumer goods and pharmaceutical sectors. With regard to
trademark rights, Swiss judges apply the international exhaustion principle, as set out in the
landmark decision by the Swiss Supreme Court of 23 October 1996, Chanel SA v EPA AG
(ATF 122 III 469). Hence, it is not possible to prevent an original product purchased at a lower
price abroad from being imported into Switzerland if said product has previously been placed
on a foreign market with the consent of the trademark owner. No infringement can be claimed
against such imports.

Today, more than ever, counterfeit detection and enforcement requires active cooperation from
all stakeholders. Only a coordinated and inclusive team approach can successfully and
significantly disrupt these illicit activities. As such, the online marketplaces play a major part,
as highlighted in the recent lawsuits initiated in the United States by some brand owners with
Amazon and Facebook. On top of that, prevention remains the best cure. It means educating
all those involved, including at the purchase stage, by means of media and content adapted to
the audience and calling on social responsibility. This must be accompanied by the fostering
of an IP-friendly culture within companies, so that each employee understands the importance
of the issue and knows what to do and in good time, since in this field as in many others,
reactivity is crucial.

The fight might appear to be emptying the sea with a spoon, but the stakes are such that there
is no choice other than to roll up one’s sleeves by a joint and coordinated engagement in
tackling what rightly qualifies as a crime.

The author would like to thank Juerg Herren, Head Legal Services General Law, Design and
Enforcement, Deputy Head Legal & International Affairs, at Swiss Federal Institute of
Intellectual Property, for his contribution.

Nathalie Denel, Senior Intellectual Property Lawyer
August 19, 2021

Autres Publications

Aperçu de la protection des appellations d’origine et indications géographiques en Suisse à la lumière de la future adhésion à l’Acte de Genève

Les indications géographiques (IG) et les appellations d’origine (AO) protègent les noms de produits dont la qualité ou la réputation est liée à un lieu de production. Leur enregistrement permet d’empêcher qu’elles ne deviennent génériques ou utilisées sans remplir les critères requis, ce qui pourrait non seulement porter préjudice aux producteurs locaux mais également induire les consommateurs en erreur concernant l’origine géographique du produit. Le système de protection des IG diffère selon les pays. En Suisse, des droits spécifiques existent pour les protéger. En outre, des discussions parlementaires sont en cours pour ratifier l’Acte de Genève de l’Arrangement de Lisbonne sur les AO et les IG, lequel permet de bénéficier de la procédure d'enregistrement internationale auprès de l’OMPI.

Révision de la législation suisse sur le droit d’auteur

L’essor constant d’internet et les changements technologiques rapides dans le monde digital ont conduit les contenus créatifs à être produits, distribués et accessibles dans une multitude de nouvelles approches. Les règles sur le droit d’auteur ont donc dû s’adapter à l’environnement actuel. Pour cette raison, les autorités suisses ont révisé la Loi fédérale sur le droit d’auteur et les droits voisins, entrée en vigueur le 1er avril 2020. Les principales modifications concernent la lutte contre le piratage en ligne, les photographies, les droits des artistes interprètes, l’utilisation numérique des œuvres dans les domaines de la recherche, de l’éducation et du patrimoine culturel, la rémunération collective des œuvres audiovisuelles et l’instauration de licences collectives étendues.

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