COVID-19 & COUNTERFEIT MEDICAL PRODUCTS
The effects of COVID-19 have been felt worldwide, and across all businesses. The field of Intellectual Property has not been spared, with IP offices in several countries shutting down completely, and others operating on a limited capacity. Several businesses have implemented ‘remote work’ policies, in order to safeguard the health and safety of its employees. Employees of IP right holders and businesses that offer IP-related services work remotely, unsupervised, and several deadlines, red flags or watch notices on infringement / counterfeiting may be overlooked.
Counterfeiting, which involves the manufacturing or distribution of goods without the permission of the owner, was already a huge problem in terms of the lost revenue to the IP right owner, the danger to the health and safety of consumers, lost revenue to the government (taxes) etc. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated counterfeiting by creating an environment for unscrupulous counterfeiters to thrive.
During this period, IP right holders are advised to be more vigilant, and monitor IP infringement & counterfeit issues. Also, the IP right holders should act promptly in assessing the scale of the infringement, and make business decisions to protect its IP rights. IP right holders are encouraged to work with IP litigation counsel, in a bid to determine apposite mechanisms to ensure the enforcement of its IP rights.
IP right holders should also consider collaborating with government agencies to curb counterfeits, and put the people on notice of counterfeits. An example of such collaboration is that between NOVARTIS Laboratories and the Ministry of Public Health in Cameroon. On May 05, 2020, the Ministry of Public health, in collaboration with NOVARTIS Laboratories, issued a statement informing the public of counterfeit COARTEM 20mg/120mg medicines that were in circulation. Tests conducted revealed that the samples did not contain any antimalarial substance. Rather, they contained Sildenafil (an aphrodisiac) and Ciprofloxacin (an antibiotic). Counterfeit medicines are manufactured using components that are cheap, do not comply with safety standards, hazardous, and put the health and safety of consumers at risk. Putting the public on notice of the circulation of counterfeit medicines will make them more vigilant, which could lower their purchases.
During this difficult period, IP right holders are encouraged to be more vigilant, and implement strategies that focus on promptly assessing and tackling IP infringement matters that come to its attention. If this is not done, when we come out of this crisis, which is hopefully soon, the IP right holders will be faced with large-scale counterfeiting, which is not only damaging to its business, but also to public health.
Author: Vanessa Halle
Partner / IP Attorney