Cracking down on intellectual property theft is extremely difficult, sometimes even when a counterfeiter has been identified. This has been the case for an American exporter, whose glues, epoxies and automotive products are sold in more than 180 countries. For years, a Chinese firm has counterfeited the company's products and even stolen its corporate identity.
In this second in a series of reports, Bill Rodgers takes a look at how Indiana-based ABRO Industries – and its suppliers – have tried to fight back against product piracy.
At ABRO Industries headquarters in South Bend, Indiana, company president Peter Baranay ponders his next move against the counterfeiters that cost his firm some $15 million annually in sales. For years, his company's products have been copied – and sold around the world under the ABRO label – primarily by one firm: Hunan Magic Power Industrial Company.
"They have truly stolen our identity,” says Baranay. They have represented themselves at trade shows in China as ABRO Industries, they have represented [themselves] to customers who have come to them to buy product as ABRO Industries. They have stated they are the owner of the ABRO trademark in China, which is a total falsehood."
His company exports industrial adhesives and automotive products made under the ABRO label by various U.S. chemical companies. As ABRO loses sales, these manufacturers are hurt as well and are forced to take extra steps to foil the counterfeiters.
Guy Berkebile is the owner of Guy Chemical, which makes silicone products used in auto engines. He says he is spending more time -- and money -- trying to make his products counterfeit-proof.
"On the top of the tube we emboss the ABRO name into the aluminum on the tube,” Berkebile explains. “This takes extensive tooling, makes it more difficult, more steps for a counterfeiter to do in order to emboss a tube. Another process that we do is that on what we call the crimp of the tube we use inkjet printers to print the word genuine and then our batch code onto the crimp."
But he acknowledges these measures only slow the counterfeiters down, not stop them.
ABRO's Peter Baranay says nothing seems to work. "We have done everything conceivable to stop Hunan Magic. We have attacked them legally within the Chinese system, we have had raids conducted in China and seized counterfeit products. We have attacked them, aggressively gone after them in markets where they have shipped product in full violation of the trademark registrations that we have in countries like Cameroon, Ecuador, Peru, et cetera."
In Cameroon, authorities in March seized hundreds of cartons of fake ABRO products from stores in Douala - after the company obtained a court order to act.
ABRO's lawyer in Cameroon, Roland Abeng, spoke to VOA while attending a Washington conference recently.
"We are still carrying out investigations to see if any other importers of the ABRO products are coming in from China through the Douala ports. If there are such products then we'll get Customs now to help us, to assist us in seizing the goods and destroying them. Because that is the only way we can stop such a practice," he says.
ABRO spends tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees to undertake these actions in each country and has spent well over a million dollars in China alone trying to stop Hunan Magic Power's counterfeiting. The Chinese firm, which declined an interview request, has fought ABRO in court.
Peter Baranay vows he will not give up. "If we're unable to stop them, more guys will participate and ultimately the ABRO brand as we know it, and the ABRO brand as controlled by an American company, will be ruined."
As could be ABRO's American suppliers.