Five years on, copyright theft remains a Chinese trademark

BEIJING, Dec 7, 2006 (AFP) – When Shanghai police broke up a counterfeit pharmaceuticals ring that produced fake Tamiflu in August, it seemed a blow had been struck against China’s notorious intellectual property thieves. Tamiflu, produced by Roche, is one of the few treatments deemed effective against bird flu, and the seizure of 400 kilograms of the potentially dodgy pills might end up saving lives in the next outbreak.

But the bust also underlined the fact that, five years after China entered the World Trade Organization with a pledge to curb intellectual property (IP) theft, its trademark pirates are still flourishing.

And they are increasingly moving into more sophisticated and potentially dangerous product lines, plugging into international distribution networks and, ironically, the free trade engendered by the WTO, experts say.

Fake drugs is an issue of huge concern to the World Health Organization.

“This is a completely different issue from pirated shirts, watches or DVDs, because you don’t die from those products,” the WHO’s chief China representative, Henk Bekedam, told AFP in an interview.

When asked how many people were dying each year in China from fake drugs, Bekedam said: “The numbers ar