Perseverance is a quality shown in abundance by our Asian partner Selective Trademark Union (STU); it is indeed their main strength. It was naturally in evidence at this fourth edition, combined with a healthy dose of discretion, since exhibitors are now aware that they are under surveillance. Caution seemed to be the watchword among product displays and was a notable feature of the 2011 edition compared to previous events. It must be said also that the organiser now forewarns exhibitors with a note drawing their attention to the law on intellectual property.
The trick of hunting for copies is to closely observe every display cabinet, where necessary repeatedly, without being recognised. Quality of observation is paramount. The eye can sometimes be mistaken, and often overlooks salient features. In addition, every aspect of a piece’s design must be held in the mind’s eye, an indispensable but daunting feat of memorization. To work more efficiently, teams this year were equipped with latest-generation digital tablets. On the touch screen, with a few flicks of a finger, one can now display every model of a particular brand. A few seconds is all it takes to check the validity of a design and directly access brands’ official sites, while strolling down the aisles of the Fair. This is not only more efficient, but also more convenient for our investigators, who are able to blend unnoticed in the throng of visitors without being encumbered by briefcases full of documents.
Thanks to this efficient technology it was with their hands in their pockets, so to speak, that our investigators attended the now traditional autumnal rendezvous of the Hong Kong Watch & Clock Fair. From 7 to 11 September, the Wan Chai exhibition complex welcomed 692 exhibitors (698 in 2010) from 12 countries (14 in 2010).
When the event began, the first task was to flush out repeat offenders, i.e. any of the 33 exhibitors who were the subject of complaints in 2010. In ten cases, disciplinary measures had to be reapplied immediately. Afterwards the teams made a broad review of the situation, in order to have an idea of the number of complaints and quickly identify the most manifest violations and the most copied models. Each violation gives rise to a quick discussion. The most serious violations are notified on the first or second day of the Fair; less serious infringements are reserved for subsequent days. Account must be taken of the Panel’s capacity to process complaints, so that legal teams can do their work to the best of their ability without being overwhelming by disputes as soon as the doors open. The aim of course, as ever, is to submit all observed violations to the Panel in order to obtain a decision and a signed undertaking.
The breakdown of figures for the event was as follows: 43 complaints were filed by our teams, i.e. two fewer than in 2010 and seven fewer than in 2009. Of this number, the Panel gave notice of 32 violations (34 in 2010), requiring in this case the immediate withdrawal of litigious items for the duration of the Fair. It will be noted that for the first time the Panel also requested the withdrawal of catalogues in which disputed items appeared. Eleven complaints were rejected (same number as in 2010) for various reasons. In five cases, the Panel deemed that the litigious pieces showed sufficiently marked differences to fall outside the field of protection in question. In four other cases, the contested objects had already been removed from display cabinets by the time the Panel arrived. The two remaining cases were rejected on technical grounds (validity of documents outlining the protection).
The outcome for 2011 was satisfactory and in line with our expectations. The dissuasive effect of our actions since 2008 is beginning to bear fruit. While copies are still plentiful, there are tentative signs of a decline in their number. What is more, they are less flagrant. This is a very positive development and a sign, we hope, of a more conscientious approach. On this point, congratulations must go to the preventive work carried out by the Fair’s organisers in terms of information concerning intellectual property. Since the event is not of a nature to inspire excessive optimism, we expect our surveillance work to be put to the test again in 2012.
Article published in FH Revue, 13th October 2011
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