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British Products (Counterfeiting)

Volume 15: debated on Monday 14 December 1981

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade what complaints he has received recently about counterfeiting of British products by overseas manufacturers; and what steps he has taken.

In the past six months we have received three complaints about the counterfeiting of British products by overseas manufacturers. We urge British companies to secure the greatest possible protection for their patents, trade marks and designs and we are prepared to back them in pursuing cases where patents, trade marks and designs are infringed. In many cases these efforts are successful, but I shall not he satisfied until the practice has been brought effectively under control.

Why is the Minister so reluctant to give maximum support to complaints by Smith and Welstood, whose heating stoves, which are manufactured at Bonnybridge in my constituency, are being counterfeited by unscrupulous manufacturers in Taiwan, who are using the counterfeits to undermine Smith and Welstood's position in the international market? If the international courts are unable or unwilling to take effective action against the pirates, will the right hon. Lady consider imposing import restrictions on Taiwan until such time as it stops illegal practices that are damaging to industry and that destroy jobs in Britain?

We very much sympathise with the dilemma of Smith and Welstood and other small companies. We have advised Smith and Welstood on how it might protect its rights. The company has yet to respond to our offer of a meeting to discuss how it might pursue its complaints. As the United Kingdom has no diplomatic relations with Taiwan it is not possible to make direct representations to the Taiwanese Government. However, the British Government have warned Taiwan publicly on a number of occasions of their deep concern about counterfeiting. It appears that the Taiwanese authorities are now taking these warnings seriously, because in August they introduced a series of measures aimed at stopping malpractices. These measures included a review of policy and of fines as alternatives to prison sentences, which may be made longer.

The Minister may be aware that 12 months ago the Prime Minister of Taiwan assured the Select Committee on Trade and Industry that prosecutions would take place if specific instances were provided by British firms. Is the right hon. Lady aware of successful prosecutions in Taiwan against counterfeiters?

I was not aware of the statement to which the hon. Gentleman referred. However, the number of cases brought to the attention of the Department has decreased significantly in recent months. I hope that that is the result of the successful resolution of such cases in Taiwan and the result of the measures to which I have referred.

Will my right hon. Friend outline the role of the Sheffield defence fund and its relationship with the Government? The term "Made in Sheffield" hitherto implied "Made in Sheffield" and not in a Sheffield elsewhere in the world. Is she now satisfied that the relationship between the Government and that fund is working well?

I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware, as is the whole House, that I laid regulations before the House to require country-of-origin marking in particular on such goods as those produced by the Sheffield manufacturers to which he is referring, and that those country-of-origin markings make the matter perfectly clear if blanks, for example, are produced in Taiwan or any other country, or in any place other than Sheffield.

Is the right hon. Lady aware that it is not enough to refer British companies to their legal rights in third countries and that she ought to make it clear to the Taiwanese Government that if they cannot control the export of counterfeit goods from that country to third countries, we most certainly can control the entry of Taiwanese goods, whether counterfeit or genuine, into Britain?

I have already said that the Government have publicly made it clear to the Government of Taiwan that we disapprove of counterfeiting. We have made public statements to that effect—not through diplomatic channels, because they do not exist—and the Taiwanese authorities have taken action. It now remains to be seen whether that action is appropriate and adequate. From the reduction in the number of cases, it would appear that it is proving to be successful. It is far too soon to make a judgment.