INTA Co-Hosts U.S. Congressional Briefing on Pandemic’s Impact on Brand Owners and Consumers

Published: July 14, 2021

INTA joined the U.S. Congressional Trademark Caucus (CTC) and the U.S Chamber of Commerce’s Global Innovation Policy Center (GIPC) in hosting the first congressional briefing of 2021, focusing on collaborative efforts to stem the tide of counterfeit products in the marketplace during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The virtual event, entitled “Addressing the Impacts of Counterfeiting on Brand Owners and Consumers During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” highlighted collaborative efforts between the U.S. government and the private sector, paying particular attention to the recent increase in online counterfeiting that followed an upsurge in e-commerce activity during the pandemic.

The CTC is a bipartisan, bicameral member organization whose mission is to highlight the vital role that trademarks and legitimate Internet domain names play in boosting the economy, creating jobs, and providing trust to American consumers and their families.

Kicking off the June 29 briefing, INTA’s Director of Government Relations, Jennifer McDowell, emphasized how significantly the pandemic has impacted both brand owners and consumers. Brand owners had to rapidly cope with the rise in counterfeiting of their products, and consumers’ health and safety was put at serious risk.

“The challenges caused by the pandemic have opened new opportunities, created new coalitions, and actually advanced our capabilities,” Ms. McDowell said. “From a brand protection perspective, we learned to work better together, out of sheer necessity.”

She highlighted reports demonstrating that “there has never been greater collaboration between brand owners and the government globally.

Frank Cullen, vice president of U.S. Intellectual Property Policy at GIPC, introduced Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ranking Member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which includes the Subcommittee on Intellectual Property. As one of the CTC co-chairs, Senator Grassley emphasized the Caucus’s important mission to educate Congress about the crucial role trademarks play in boosting economic growth and consumer confidence.

The briefing also featured an address from the newest CTC co-chair, Representative Michael McCaul (R-10th Dist., Texas). Rep. McCaul highlighted the vital protection trademarks provide inventors and consumers across the United States.

Further, he stated, “Congress needs to take necessary measures to rid the United States of counterfeit products by stepping up the prevention of counterfeits and coordinating with foreign nations on these issues. With stronger laws and increased focus on trademarks, the United States can grow our competitive edge.”

Michael Chu, an attorney advisor in the office of International Computer Hacking & Intellectual Property, explained the U.S. Department of Justice’s role in combating the use of fraudulent websites that falsely address public health issues during the COVID-19 pandemic. For instance, the Justice Department, in partnership with Homeland Security Investigations and the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, took down websites selling fake N95 face masks.

Describing anticounterfeiting as “a crucial piece of our efforts to protect U.S. national security,” Jim Mullinax, deputy director of the Intellectual Property Enforcement Office in the U.S. State Department, provided an overview of the role the State Department plays to promote intellectual property protection and enforcement around the world. Mr. Mullinax also lauded the Department of State’s initiatives to guarantee the manufacturing of safe and effective vaccines and the integrity of supply chains.

The briefing included a panel of brand owners who shared strategies their companies adopted to protect consumers’ health and safety during the pandemic.

Colette Durst (3M Innovative Properties Company, USA) shared her experience in leading the 3M COVID-19 Global Brand Protection Team. Among other initiatives, the team created a global COVID-19 reporting hotline for consumers to report fraud, price gouging, and counterfeiting activity. The team also shared information with the public on how to identify counterfeit face masks and respirators.

Similarly, Rich Kaeser (Johnson & Johnson, USA), discussed Johnson & Johnson’s anticounterfeiting and cybersecurity issues as well as its operational changes during the pandemic. For example, the company turned some of its manufacturing centers into hand sanitizer production centers.

On the counterfeiting front, Mr. Kaeser expressed his gratitude to law enforcement, regulators, and brand protection professionals for their proactive engagement and ongoing commitment to this issue. “Our ultimate goal is to keep patients and consumers safe, but we can’t do it alone,” he said.

Zach Isakowitz, coalitions director at the U.S. House of Representatives for Rep. McCaul, moderated the briefing and provided the audience with a stimulating Q&A session.

INTA’s Washington, D.C., Representative Office advocates the Association’s policy positions in Canada and the United States. To learn more about INTA’s activities in the region, please contact INTA Director of Government Relations Jennifer McDowell.

Although every effort has been made to verify the accuracy of this article, readers are urged to check independently on matters of specific concern or interest. 

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