For many years, intellectual property (IP) theft was a low priority for law enforcement. Some might have called it a “victimless crime.” Until recently.
Within the last decade, global law enforcement officials have determined that the profit from IP theft may be funneled into organized crime and terrorist organizations. Tracking down and prosecuting IP crimes has become important to reducing the funding sources of extreme criminality.
The impact of counterfeiting products extends way beyond economic fraud. It endangers the health and safety of many people around the world. Counterfeit baby formula and face-whitening creams are but two examples of products that have cost lives. Additionally, fires have been caused by electrical and electronic products that were thought to be safe but were instead fake.
INTERPOL, a network of police forces from 190 countries, wanted to improve law enforcement training on IP crimes and approached UL about developing an online training platform, now known as the International IP Crime Investigators College (IIPCIC).
“We worked closely with INTERPOL to develop the content,” explains Monica Mena, senior manager for outreach and capacity building, which is part of the UL Global Security and Brand Protection team. “They identified the subject matter experts, attended the initial meetings with the experts, reviewed training scripts, helped with translations into different languages, and finally, reviewed and approved all content.”
With 12,000 registered users, including 11,000 law enforcement officials from 300 agencies in more than 150 countries, the college currently offers a curriculum of more than 22 courses in English, Spanish, French, Mandarin and Arabic—all at no charge for law enforcement. The first 14 courses cover the basics: what IP crime is, how to detect it, how to conduct investigations, and so forth. These courses provide global law enforcement with a standard for communicating about IP crime transnationally.
The next eight courses cover online counterfeiting, a fast-growing area of IP criminality. Another eight courses are in development and will provide specific training for customs officials. Two of those modules have been released thus far, and all eight customs modules are expected to be available by the second quarter of next year.
Increasingly, brand owners are paying the college to build courses around a product or products prone to counterfeiting. Through these customized training modules, companies such as Schneider Electric and Levi’s are empowering law enforcement and customs officials with specific knowledge to combat the counterfeiting of their products. The revenue from brand owners then funds additional curriculum offerings for law enforcement around the world.
The partnership with brand owners represents UL’s public-private vision for the College. “Nobody can fight this crime on its own, and everyone needs to cooperate. The college’s goal is to create communications and cooperation between the two sectors to fight this crime,” explains Mena.
In addition to law enforcement and customs officials, the college sees demand from internal investigators at brands, rights holders, attorneys, government officials and academics. Currently, about one-third of the College’s learners are from Africa, one-third from Latin America and about one-fifth are from North America.
What’s next for the College? More regional-specific curriculum, more language translations—Portuguese will be available by the end of the year, and possibly, courses on the unique counterfeiting challenges posed by 3D printing.
“Counterfeits touch everyone when you see the devastation that can occur when these products are built and sold without any care for how they would affect a person, or how the money from the sales of these products supports other criminal operations,” notes Mena. “Our work with the College fits the UL mission perfectly—we are making the world a safer place.”