Employers wage war on stolen designs and seek justice

BY: Suleiman Mustapha
Mr Ekow Spio-Garbrah — Minister of Trade and Industry
Mr Ekow Spio-Garbrah — Minister of Trade and Industry

The Ghana Employers Association (GEA) has called for stiffer punishment for pirates of stolen industrial designs to save the country’s industrial sector from collapsing.

Rising concerns of stolen industrial designs of textile and manufacturing companies to the pirating of counterfeit pharmaceutical products have forced employers to call for a review of the Copy Right Law Act 690, 2005 to save the country’s thriving industrial sector from crumpling.

The Director of Research and Projects of the GEA, Mr Charles Asante-Bempong, said in an interview with the Graphic Business that the law was not stringent enough to deter counterfeits and pirates from engaging in the counterfeiting business.

According to the GEA, the current law does not provide severe punitive measures for individuals who steal or copy others inventions or creations.

Pharmaceutical companies such as Danadams and Ernest Chemist have reported of the rising incidence of counterfeiting of their trademarks while textiles companies such as GTP and Akosombo are reeling under heavy losses.

The country’s markets have been flooded with cheap pirated and counterfeit imports, arriving mainly from China, and fewer than 3,000 jobs now remain in an industry which employed more than 10 times that in the 1980s.

Mr Asante-Bempong lamented that counterfeiting and piracy undermined the livelihood of creators and innovators, as well as millions of other people working in intellectual property-related sectors.

 “When one is convicted, the copy right law says not less than 500 penalty units and not more than 1000 penalty units. A penalty unit is GH¢12 Ghana or a term of imprisonment not more than three years. We need to revise the law going forward,” Asante-Bempong said.

Counterfeit trade

“Increasing illegal trade activities, including counterfeiting, on our market are badly affecting the products of domestic producers, leading to significant loss of business and jobs, especially in the textile and pharmaceutical sectors,” he added.

Mr Asante-Bempong stated that counterfeit products had affected the nation on different levels and was adversely impacting on the society as well as consumers, local industry and traders, employment and job creation, government revenue, image and the reputation of Ghana.

For instance, he stated the textile and garment industry which used to employ over 30,000 people in the past “is now employing just fewer than 3,000 due to the activities of counterfeiters who pirate Ghanaian fabrics from Asian countries and bring them into Ghana to sell at cheaper prices. The local textile manufacturers are suffering. Out of five, only two are currently in operation. They are even producing under capacity because of the activities of pirates.”

“When it comes to the effect on consumers, it is a big issue because if you cannot differentiate between a counterfeit product from a genuine one, you will be cheated as a consumer,” Mr Asante-Bempong added.

“This means that consumers are also losing money to counterfeiting. For health, we know the health implications of using a counterfeit product. It is dangerous to our health,” he said.

A Commercial Officer at the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Mr Lawrence Osei-Boateng, added that “as a nation, we suffer a lot from the activities of counterfeiting—we lose investors, potential investors who might want to invest in the textile industry. They will not be interested because of the counterfeiters.”

Effects of pirates on businesses

Throwing more light on the effects of intellectual property right on businesses, Mr Asante-Bempong said: “It affects businesses because somebody invents a product and has the right to that product. And then some people copy the product and start making money out of it; it kills innovation, it kills imagination, people are not able to continue to innovate because they spend their time to innovate something and someone come and steals it or copy and go make more money than the  inventor, it does not encourage people to continue.”

A Senior State Attorney at the Registrar General Department (RGD), Mrs Owusua Adansi-Ofori, stated that it was not the responsibility of the department police to register copyright works.

“It is the duty of the copyright owner to police it. It is not our duty to do that. May be what we can do is that once we give you the certificate, we do the substantive examination for you”.

 “Afterwards you do your policing yourself. You have to be vigilant. Even when it comes to copyright you initiate process by lodging complaints. We have a lot of remedies in our law-civil remedies, criminal remedies and administrative remedies these are done at the copyright division,” she added.

 The concern for businesses was that the Copyright Act 690, 2005; the Trade Marks Act 2004, and Industrial Design Act, 2003 are not stringent enough to minimise or eradicate the practice in the country.