Sting operations to crack down on luxury brand knockoffs have become a regular part of the job for Alexis Touzin, director of legal affairs at the European Chamber of Commerce in Korea.
Touzin, who heads the chamber’s Intellectual Property Rights Center, is determined to eradicate the widespread practice of selling and buying counterfeits in the country.
“(Our mission) started with Myeong-dong, where the visibility of counterfeits was very high,” Touzin said in an interview with The Korea Herald. He declined to have his picture taken, for fear it may deter any future investigations.
Dubbed the “Myeong-dong Project,” this particular clampdown was aimed at the heart of Korea’s tourist hotspot where knock-off bags, shoes, wallets and other accessories are openly sold in the streets.
The high visibility is a reflection of the snowballing volume of the nation’s imitation-brand industry, now worth some 27 trillion won ($24.9 billion), which makes Korea one of the world’s top five counterfeit markets.
The center works side by side with several local government agencies including the customs office and prosecutors’ office to weed out fake goods. Seoul City and the district office of Jung-gu are also partners.
The luxury brands also have rolled up their sleeves to take part in the campaign.
“When you see counterfeits in open air, it’s basically destroying the brand image and value of the European brands,” Touzin said.
For their part, the designer brands provide their expertise to examine the authenticity of the goods under investigation. The IPC’s role is to mediate between the local government and these companies to efficiently coordinate their efforts.
Touzin says the harmful impact of knock-offs is actually deeper than many think.
“If you have the choice between buying a fake and a very good quality but not yet famous Korean brand, what would you choose? Some will choose the fake. That’s harming the Korean economy, and maybe that’s one of the reasons why there is no famous Korean luxury brand yet,” he suggested.
He said the anticounterfeit initiative, while on a strong start, needs more support, as Seoul City and Jung-gu district are capable of dispatching only a couple of officials each week to comb the markets of Myeong-dong and Namdaemun.
Touzin is hoping for other districts to join in the campaign to expand the work to Itaewon, another hotbed for knock-offs.
In Europe, the laws are significantly severe against counterfeits, and they affect not only the manufacturers ― as is the case of Korea ― but also the consumers.
In France, for example, the authorities will seize the counterfeits and make the consumer pay up to twice the price of the original.
“It’s quite a powerful deterrent,” Touzin noted, adding that raising awareness was equally important. “I personally think deterrence is of no use if you don’t have in-depth educational work on the side.“
To curb the demand for counterfeits, deterrence may be the tool, but the fundamental solution involves raising public awareness and education.
“People don’t understand why counterfeits are so harmful, believing them to be a victimless crime,” said Touzin.
His next goal is to expand the work of the IPC to protect patents and copyrights.
By Kim Ji-hyun (email@example.com