The leader of a substantial counterfeiting operation, manufacturing imitation luxury brand Hermès handbags, was recently sentenced to life imprisonment by a Chinese court. In addition to the leader's life sentence, three accomplices received prison sentences for terms of between seven and ten years and were ordered to pay fines ranging from 500,000 RMB to 800,000 RMB each.

Public security officers seized products said to be worth around 100 million RMB during a raid at the defendant's factory in May of this year. The officials also discovered that goods said to be worth approximately 2.5 million RMB had been sold prior to the raid.

The Heyuan Intermediate People's Court of Guangdong Province in southern China ruled that the counterfeiters had committed two crimes: first, that of producing and selling fake and inferior products; and, second, of passing off defective items as high quality products. The latter offence carries the heavier penalties and the high value of the fake products sold by the defendant meant that the court had the power to issue a sentence of life imprisonment.

The severity of this sentence may have something to do with a public campaign currently being carried out by Guangdong province authorities against the production and sale of fake and inferior goods. One of the aims of this campaign is to increase market innovation by the proper enforcement of intellectual property rights and it forms part of a wider national trend as China seeks to increase confidence in its intellectual property rights enforcement regime.