Around the world, counterfeit chemicals present a risk to the public.

Around the world, counterfeit chemicals present a risk to the public, especially when they take the form of fake pharmaceuticals. A new EU directive could go some way to help pharmaceutical companies to enforce their property rights.

The World Health Organisation estimates that 25 per cent of drugs sold in the developing world are either counterfeit or substandard, while the US Food and Drug Administration calculates that the 10 per cent ’market share’ of counterfeits is worth $32 000m ( ca ?18 000m) per year.

Europe is not immune: counterfeit drugs have turned up on pharmacy shelves in The Netherlands, and a booming black market for Viagra has encouraged cheap imitations. When the European Parliament debated tougher new EU controls on pirated and counterfeit goods recently, British MEP Arlene McCarthy flourished a bag containing what she said was fake Viagra, part of a seized consignment destined for distribution by a network in north-west England. Currently, bona fide producers find it difficult to secure prompt, effective enforcement of intellectual and industrial property rights (IPR) because of divergent juridical systems.

However, a directive approved by MEPs will offer IPR holders the same forms of redress across the EU, as from mid-2006. The directive draws on what the European Commission sees as best practice, including procedures in British and French civil law for seizing evidence. It also includes right holders’ entitlements in Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, and The Netherlands to demand information on the origin of infringing goods and distribution networks; British ’freezing injunctions’ that block bank accounts by way of ’precautionary seizure’ of an infringer’s assets; and a Dutch practice which requires product recall of infringing goods at the infringer’s expense.

Arthur Rogers