Since its introduction in September 2013, the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) has been making big impressions in the national press. Some of which have been reported in our articles from last year: 'Police to take on Internet Pirates' and 'First arrests by the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit'.
On 26 April 2014, World Intellectual Property Day, the City of London Police announced that the PIPCU has suspended more than 2,500 websites since its launch 8 months ago. The suspended websites sold various counterfeit designer goods including brands such as Ugg boots, GHD hair straighteners, Abercrombie clothing and Gucci items. Consumers who purchased goods from these websites were left short changed as the goods received were either of a lower quality than expected or were never received at all.
The websites are commonly operated by organised criminal gangs and the sale of counterfeit goods through these websites generates tens of millions of pounds allowing them to continue to participate in criminal activities. Head of PIPCU, DCI Andy Fyfe, also warns that
'Consumers need to be aware that by accessing websites like this they are running the risk of their personal details being compromised and being used for other fraudulent scams, as well as the exposing their computer to malicious malware.'
The message from PIPCU to consumers is to use common sense when shopping online: legitimate designer goods are rarely discounted.
Brand owners who suspect that counterfeit goods bearing their brand are being sold online can refer the matter to PIPCU by downloading a referral form from the City of London Police website. PIPCU will then investigate and if there is evidence of criminal activity they may: seize any counterfeit goods or any criminal assets derived from IP crime, close down the domain names in question and pass the matter to the City of London Police to make arrests where necessary.
PIPCU was launched on 12 September 2013 and is aimed at tackling online IP crime such as the online sale of counterfeit goods and piracy. It is run by the City of London Police and funded by the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) who are responsible for the registration and maintenance of intellectual property rights including trade marks, patents, designs and copyright. The IPO provided £2.56 million in funding to support the running of PIPCU in its first two years. PIPCU is made up of a team of 21 including detectives, police staff investigators, analysts, researchers, an education officer, and a media and communications officer.
Intellectual Property crime is a real and growing threat to businesses, consumers and the UK economy where hundreds of millions of pounds are lost every year as a direct result of IP crime. In an increasingly competitive market brand owners are finding it difficult to prevent counterfeit goods being bought by consumers online. With the introduction of PIPCU, the government are finally addressing this issue which has been well received by brand owners with over 100 referrals in the past eight months. The PIPCU has quickly become the main driving force of Intellectual Property enforcement in the UK. What is more, it is one of the first units of its kind in the world ensuring that the UK stays at the forefront of IP enforcement.