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          ICC BASCAP cautions against standardized packaging of tobacco products in UK

          • Paris , 10 August 2012

          Business Action to Stop Counterfeiting and Piracy (BASCAP), an initiative of the International Chamber of Commerce has responded to a UK government call for public comment on a proposal to introduce standardized packaging of tobacco products by warning that such a move would result in a backwash of unintended negative consequences.

          Plain packages

          “Counterfeiting and piracy continue to be a major problem both in the UK and the rest of the world, and plain packaging of any product will make it easier for fakes to enter the marketplace,” said BASCAP Director Jeffrey Hardy. “Tobacco products are already a target for the organized crime syndicates making fake cigarettes, and any policies that strip away trademarks will make it more difficult and costly for UK law enforcement officers to fight against these criminals.”

          BASCAP provided its views in response to the UK Department of Health’s open consultation on standardized packaging of tobacco products, and concentrated on the extenuating negative impacts of standardized packaging on intellectual property (IP) rights, counterfeiting and the risks to other industries from such a precedent-setting intervention by the government into IP rights.

          BASCAP is concerned that standardized/plain packaging would increase the prevalence of counterfeit goods in the market, reduce brand owners' ability to take action against such activity and undermine the ability of consumers to make informed purchasing decisions. Trademarks serve these important functions in the market for all branded goods.

          The UK has been a leading voice in support of IP and rules-based commerce and the BASCAP statement calls on public authorities to avoid implementing policies that would weaken the object and purpose of current initiatives undertaken to fight against counterfeit and illicit products or that would otherwise directly or indirectly undermine the protection or enforcement of IP rights.

          “The ability of brand owners to market their product in unique and easily identifiable ways is fundamental to the protection of IP rights in developed societies,” Mr Hardy said. “Removing one industry’s ability to use its IP rights is government expropriation of private property and opens the door to extend this violation to other industries and other brand owners in the UK and elsewhere.”

          The BASCAP submission also addressed the downward pressures standardized packaging would have on competitiveness and economic growth, as well as facilitating an increase in illicit trade – all of which drain the UK economy of growth, jobs and tax revenues.

          “At a time when industries across the UK are struggling to improve competitiveness and create jobs, the last thing they need is for the government to tamper with the fundamental IP right of product differentiation through trademarks and packaging. It is not a stretch to note that over the long term, such interference could result in damage to UK competitiveness and jobs,” said Hardy.

          BASCAP also pointed out that standardized packaging is likely to increase rather than decrease burdens on already overstretched public agencies working to enforce IP protection in the face of escalating counterfeiting and piracy throughout the EU and the rest of the world.

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