When a Cardin is not a Cardin

The high prices of many designer products - jeans, ties, dresses, watches - are often enough of a jolt without having to find out that what you bought was not the brand name item after all but a fake. Unfortunately, counterfeiting of well-known brands is a thriving business worldwide - costing manufacturers losses of $100 million or more annually and leaving consumers stuck with often shoddy merchandise. French fashion designer Pierre Cardin, for example, once told of coming across a fake Cardin boutique in the capital of an Asian nation that was stocked with a broad range of copies of his products. Everything about the boutique was fake, even though the items were exact duplicates of Cardin designs and all bore a (fake) trademark.

It is to the credit of the United States, Common Market nations, Canada, and Japan that after years of discussion they have at last reached agreement on a preliminary accord that would bar imports of goods with counterfeit trademarks. The major industrial nations are attempting to place the issue on the agenda of the upcoming ministerial-level trade conference to be held in Geneva in late November. A number of third-world nations (where the fake goods are made) are seeking to thwart any action on such an accord.

A global accord on counterfeit products is long overdue. If the few nations involved in such counterfeiting scuttle efforts to reach agreement on a treaty, then the major industrial nations should go ahead and adopt the treaty on their own and among themselves, as now contemplated.

The preliminary agreement is reasonable and fair, in that it not only protects trademark firms subject to unscrupulous counterfeiting (such as Levi Strauss, Cartier) but also provides for a review process that would involve both the trademark holder and the importer of goods believed to be fake.

Major trademark holders already license hundreds of firms in third-world nations to manufacture their products. So such an accord should not in any sense be considered discriminatory. It would simply control counterfeiting - which is still a swindle by whomever it is done.

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