JEDDAH - Legal bodies agreed Tuesday on stepping up legal actions against counterfeiters and pirates to protect intellectual property and ensure consumer safety amid reports that many counterfeit products abound in the local markets.
For instance, according to Abdullah Al-Abdelgader, a director of a pharmaceutical manufacturing company, counterfeit medicines account for around 30-40 percent of medicines sold at local pharmacies and hospitals in the Kingdom, exposing the consumers to unimaginable risks as these medicines lack the correct ingredients and, in the worst case scenario, may be filled with highly toxic substances.
On the third and last day of the First Arab Consumer and Brand Protection Forum held here, participants from the medical and pharmaceutical industry said these medicines are manufactured below established standards of quality representing an enormous public health challenge.
“The risk of having a counterfeit medicine increases as the price of the original medicine breaks the SR100 mark,” Al-Abdelgader said. As much as $90 billion of the world’s economy is lost to counterfeiting in the medical industry, he added.
Bogus pharmaceutical firms account for 8 percent of medicines worldwide proved to be fatal, said a representative of a medicine company.
A counterfeit medicine for kidney failure was responsible for the mass death of around 2,500 children in Nigeria alone in 1995, said Majdi Hassan, from another pharmaceutical manufacturing company.
China loses 200,000-300,000 lives a year due to counterfeit medicines, he said.
The US-based Center for Medicines in the Public Interest predicted that counterfeit drug sales will reach $75 billion globally in 2010, an increase of more than 90 percent from 2005.
In a session dubbed “Author’s Rights: Plans, Policies, and Principles” chaired by Abdulrahman Al-Haza’a, assistant deputy minister of Culture and Information for local media, Muhmmad Al-Ameen, president of the Court of Grievances talked about judicial measures taken against counterfeiters and intellectual pirates in the Kingdom.
The Kingdom has a set of regulations aimed at protecting intellectual property and is working to create more laws derived from Shariah to combat the growing threat of piracy and counterfeiting, said Abdul Illah Al-Suliman, head of an administrative court at the Court of Grievances.
In addition to applying the Shariah legislation in the Kingdom which prohibits engagement in illegal trade activities including counterfeiting and piracy, the Kingdom has agreed to many international pacts to further curb the piracy problem worldwide, he said. “It is in the best interest of the world to protect brand names,” he said.
Muhammad Al-Raqad, president of Jordanian Judicial Council and head of Cassation Court, said Jordan has struggled for years to protect brand names through its judiciary system. “The theft of someone’s intellectual property is an abhorrent assault on human mind, religion, and values,” he said.
Jordan has created at least 30 laws to combat piracy with ongoing training sessions for judges and employees to comply with both national and international legislations against piracy and counterfeiting, he added.
On the west side of the Arab world, the threat of counterfeiting and piracy is growing at uncontrolled speed because of inferior technology and inability to afford original products, said Monther Al-Mansi, a Tunisian legal consultant.
Lawyer of Union of Software Producers, Muhmmad Al-Dhaban, said the Union’s vision is geared into creating a protected software industry without fears of losing business to pirates and counterfeiters.
The Union is a non-profit organization that operates to wage war on piracy in 80 countries with support from member countries, he said.
The Ministry of Culture and Information has strived to fight intellectual piracy to guarantee authors’ rights in the Kingdom, the assistant deputy minister said.
Copyrights in the Kingdom went through drastic changes throughout the last two decades to quiet the sound of photocopying machines around universities and schools. These photocopying machines are yet to display details of the license and permitted copying limits.
“Violations of authors’ rights have plagued the world and the Kingdom is no exception,” he said. The Kingdom, however, has already taken giant strides towards combating the situation, he said. Work inside the ministry is transparent when it comes to infringements on copyrights, he said, urging the private sector to provide more help to curb the existing threat.
Companies should reconsider the price tag of their original products to hold back the customer from going for that cheap fake product, he said.
Prices of software products need to be slashed for teachers and students, Haza’a said.
Eric Smith, president of the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA), said the forum has shown growing interest and seriousness to combat piracy and counterfeiting, adding that that the IIPA was created with a mission to protect intellectual property through a set of laws.
There are around 150,000 pirated software copies in the Kingdom sold for as little as SR10 each, Smith said.
As intellectual piracy intensifies, so does the war on it, said Muhammad Al-Ansari, head of intellectual property protection at Saudi Aramco. “We are working to come up with radical approaches to stop this problem through ongoing development of our systems,” he added.
In the Gulf area, the counterfeiting economy accounts for $13 billion, with a share of $4 billion in the Saudi market including spare parts, clothes, electronics, leather, perfumes, and watches, experts in the forum said. - Okaz