For several years, I have written about the lack of reliability of data on counterfeiting. The RCMP cited data without any factual basis, while other groups regularly made claims without support, such as reports from the Ontario Chamber of Commerce and the Conference Board of Canada. Of course, this phenomenon was not limited to Canada. The US Patent and Trademark Office relied on the same data to claim 7 – 8 % of world trade is counterfeit, while a report from the first Global Congress on Counterfeiting, which led to ACTA, pointed to FBI data it said showed counterfeiting at US$200 – 250 billion per year.
This week a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office concludes that estimates such as these are not reliable and cannot be substantiated to a data source. The U.S. GAO was required by Congress to try to quantify the impact of counterfeit and pirated goods. While concluding that counterfeiting exists and is a problem, the GAO could not find reliable data. Its review of commonly cited claims:
Three commonly cited estimates of U.S. industry losses due to counterfeiting have been sourced to U.S. agencies, but cannot be substantiated or traced back to an underlying data source or methodology. First, a number of industry, media, and government publications have cited an FBI estimate that U.S. businesses lose $200-$250 billion to counterfeiting on an annual basis. This estimate was contained in a 2002 FBI press release, but FBI officials told us that it has no record of source data or methodology for generating the estimate and that it cannot be corroborated.
Second, a 2002 CBP press release contained an estimate that U.S. businesses and industries lose $200 billion a year in revenue and 750,000 jobs due to counterfeits of merchandise. However, a CBP official stated that these figures are of uncertain origin, have been discredited, and are no longer used by CBP. A March 2009 CBP internal memo was circulated to inform staff not to use the figures. However, another entity within DHS continues to use them.
Third, the Motor and Equipment Manufacturers Association reported an estimate that the U.S. automotive parts industry has lost $3 billion in sales due to counterfeit goods and attributed the figure to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The OECD has also referenced this estimate in its report on counterfeiting and piracy, citing the association report that is sourced to the FTC. However, when we contacted FTC officials to substantiate the estimate, they were unable to locate any record or source of this estimate within its reports or archives, and officials could not recall the agency ever developing or using this estimate. These estimates attributed to FBI, CBP, and FTC continue to be referenced by various industry and government sources as evidence of the significance of the counterfeiting and piracy problem to the U.S. economy.
While the report is unlikely to stem the tide of unsubstantiated claims, it is important to recognize that independent analysis from the U.S. government has now concluded what many have been maintaining for some time – the case against counterfeiting continues to suffer from an absence of hard, reliable data.