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Opening Ceremony of the 2010 International Law Enforcement Intellectual Property Crime Conference (English Only)

19 October 2010


Following is the speech delivered by Commissioner of Customs and Excise, Mr Richard Yuen, today (October 19) at the Opening Ceremony of the 2010 International Law Enforcement Intellectual Property Crime Conference co-hosted by INTERPOL and Hong Kong Customs:

Under-secretary (Gregory) So, President Khoo (Boon Hui), Mr (Charlie) Abounader, Mr (Allen) Bruford, Mr (Andy) Tsang, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning. On behalf of the Hong Kong Customs, I would like to extend a very warm welcome to you. The Hong Kong Customs is honoured and privileged to have this opportunity to co-host the 2010 International Law Enforcement Intellectual Property Crime Conference with INTERPOL. I would like to thank our principal sponsor, Underwriters Laboratories, for its support for the Conference and express my appreciation and gratitude to the speakers and specialists who have taken time out from their busy schedule to speak at the Conference and share their experience with us.

The importance of protecting intellectual property rights goes well beyond promoting creativity and innovation. Protecting intellectual property rights is equally important, if not more so, to stimulating economic growth and creating jobs. Take Hong Kong as an example, like most other economies, we suffered from a sharp economic downturn during the Asian financial crisis. Our economy has soon rebounded strongly. One of the main factors which account for this quick recovery is the strong growth in the tourism and retail sectors. The number of inbound visitors grew by 30% from 23 million to 30 million between 2005 and 2009, and the sale value of the retail sector increased by 35%, from 26 billion US dollars to 35 billion US dollars during the same period.

Hong Kong has always been known as a shoppers??paradise. Each year millions of tourists come to enjoy our beautiful scenery, vibrant city life and good food. But for many, the main purpose is to shop. Visitors like doing shopping in Hong Kong, because we have no import or sales tax and the goods are of a greater variety, but most important of all because they have trust in our IP and trademark protection. They can shop with ease and comfort and with a peace of mind that the goods they buy are genuine and the quality assured.

Today, enforcement agencies are helped by the fact that consumers are increasingly aware that fake products are not just cheap imitations. Fake mobile phone batteries and counterfeit drugs can cause serious safety threats to consumers and society, and fake software can contaminate your computer and help spread the virus. However, one of the main difficulties of combating IP crimes is the diverse responsibilities in government. It is not uncommon that different government departments and agencies are involved in IPR registration, protection, and enforcement. In response to this challenge, the Hong Kong Customs has been made the sole authority in IPR enforcement in Hong Kong. We work closely with the Intellectual Property Department, which is responsible for patent, trademark and design registration and promoting public awareness of IPR. We have also established a strong partnership with the Hong Kong Police, which will hand over any IP related crimes and seizures that they come across to us for prosecution. But ultimately, the Hong Kong Customs is responsible - and held accountable - for the overall IPR enforcement situation in Hong Kong. The clear delineation of responsibility and accountability, coupled with enhanced public education and sustained enforcement action, has seen a dramatic improvement in IPR protection in Hong Kong. Back in the 1990s when piracy activities were most rampant, there were over 1000 illegal sales outlets of counterfeit computer software and fake products. The number has dropped sharply and there are no more than a few still exist today. Since our successful prosecution of the first case of uploading infringement copies of movies on the Internet by using the BitTorrent (BT) technology in the year 2005, both the volume of BT traffic and the number of BT seeders found has decreased sharply by 80%.

While local knowledge is important in combating IP crimes, the advent of new IT technology, globalisation of trade and the increased complexity of the international supply chain, have added a new dimension to the problem. Law enforcement agencies and IP protection authorities, by definition, work at the national level. Unfortunately, the criminal syndicates do not. They have long gone globalised and diversified. The threat and harm caused by IP crimes are not restricted to the IP industries and consumers. The monies made by the syndicates from the manufacturing and distribution of counterfeit goods can be used, and they are often used, to finance other more serious crimes - drug trafficking, smuggling, just to name a few.

To counteract organised IP crimes, IP enforcement agencies must work together within and across the national boundaries. Customs authorities, given their responsibility to protect the border, can play an effective role in suppressing transnational IP crimes by intercepting the counterfeit goods at the point of entry and exit. I would like to congratulate INTERPOL and thank Underwriters Laboratories for organising and supporting this annual conference. The significance of the gathering is not only that it helps raise the IPR awareness of the law enforcement agencies; it also provides us with an opportunity to promote cross-border, cross-sector, and cross-organisation cooperation and helps forge a stronger partnership between the IP industries and the law enforcement agencies to break organised IP crimes. I hope you will make the best use of the next three days to exchange information, share experience and I wish you a fruitful and productive meeting.

Thank you.

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