The government is spearheading a new war on counterfeiters as new figures estimate the trade in ripped-off goods is costing the economy £10bn a year.
A new enforcement team at the Patent Office will be trained to identify troublespots, conduct risk analyses and pass on information to groups including the police, Customs & Excise officers and brand owners, said patent office senior policy advisor Phil Lewis.
More sophisticated technology has made faking goods easier and cheaper than ever before, with almost all consumer products targeted by counterfeiters, he added.
“We’re not just talking about CDs and DVDs anymore.
Everything is a legitimate target, from power tools to teabags, instant coffee and alcohol.
“Cheaper, more sophisticated printers also mean packaging looks exactly the same.”
Like many drinks companies, Diageo has been a victim of counterfeiting, with rogue versions of Smirnoff finding their way into the market, said a spokesman.
Battery maker Panasonic has also been targeted, with 480,000 counterfeit silver oxide batteries bearing the trademark Panasonic recently intercepted at Charles de Gaulle airport.
Originating in Hong Kong, the fake batteries were heading for the Czech Republic, said Panasonic legal manager Wim Williams.
Although fakes did not usually end up in the major multiples, who usually buy direct from manufacturers, they often did find their way into the independent sector, said Simon Eves, general manager of Panasonic’s consumer battery department.
Aside from the damage to company profits and reputation it could cause, counterfeit food, drink and pharmaceuticals represented a major health hazard, said Anti-Counterfeiting Group DG Ruth Orchard: “You wouldn’t think big gangsters would be interested in counterfeiting instant coffee and washing powder, but it’s low risk and high profit.”
However, spending a fortune on hi-tech holograms or other markers to prove authenticity was a luxury most companies could not afford, especially on low value goods, she added.
Trade and industry minister Jacqui Smith said the new strategy would help co-ordinate efforts between agencies such as the police and Trading Standards. A progress report would be published annually.
She said: “Pirates and bootleggers cheat consumers and drain our economy.”
Elaine Watson