Belgium is striving to introduce in its National Plan for Security measures to help the fight against counterfeiting and to overcome its reputation as a hub of counterfeiting. The Belgian legislature recently adopted an important law on Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) which came into force on 1 October 2007. The new law provides for both an innovative customs regulation and a new repressive regime for infringements of IPRs. The new law creates a "customs offence" which imposes sanctions for violations of EU regulation no. 1383/2003 (customs actions against goods suspected of infringing certain intellectual property rights).
Belgian law now sets out serious criminal sanctions for almost all infringements of IPRs in order to discourage large-scale piracy. The main aspects of the reform are as follows:
- The infringement must be committed with a malicious or fraudulent intention (which - in practice - is almost always the case) in order to constitute a criminal offence.
- The filing of a complaint by the harmed party is no longer required; the public prosecutor can now act on its own initiative.
- The Ministry of Economic affairs may - either on its own initiative or on receiving a complaint - issue a cease order before transferring the matter to the public prosecutor. The Ministry may also, in certain conditions, enter into a transaction with the counterfeiter.
- The new investigative powers granted to the Ministry are very wide and include the right to perform dawn raids.
It remains to be seen how this new law will be applied in practice. Currently, at least for certain criminal and procedural aspects, the law remains rather vague and practitioners are already facing problems with its interpretation. The creation of new offences and procedures will only aid progress if the actions of the various bodies involved in the fight against counterfeit goods are coordinated.