Recently National Public Radio’s Planet Money aired an extensive radio broadcast entitled “Episode 900: The Stolen Company” about a counterfeiting case involving a US adhesives company, ABRO. The case occurred over 10 years ago but continues to have meaning today. Owing to my role at the US Embassy at the time, I was interviewed along with Bill Mansfield, who implemented ABRO’s anti-counterfeiting strategies, ABRO’s executive team, and others. The Planet Money segment recalls the extreme measures that the counterfeiter undertook as well as Bill Mansfield’s creative countermeasures. I won’t spoil the show by telling you now. The case continues to stand for the proposition that it is possible to win complex counterfeiting cases in China.
One of the individuals who was not included in the final broadcast was Jack Chang 张为安. Jack is a friend and fellow veteran of many anti-counterfeiting campaigns, and he has been particularly active in the Quality Brands Protection Committee (QBPC), an association of foreign-invested enterprises (FIE’s) that work together to improve China’s IP system. He remembered those early days involving ABRO. Jack noted the following to me in a recent email exchange regarding ABRO after this program aired:
“1) After the Hunan counterfeiter was arrested in London but managed to return to China, he conducted a press conference blaming on USG and ABRO for cheating and framing him. His story was widely spread in China. Even within QBPC, many Chairs circulated the counterfeiter’s one side story. It was Mark Cohen, whom I checked with and who provided me with ABRO’s story. Mark did not disclose that he was involved in the operation at that time though. After learning that the Hunan counterfeiter was the bad guy, I asked the QBPC Chairs and members not to repeat the counterfeiter’s one side story and they did.
2) I know Bill [Mansfield] for many years. His drinking tea and presenting appreciation plaques served in fact as an important value that “a U.S. citizen, who was so frustrated with China’s counterfeiting problem, ended up recognizing Chinese authorities’ sense of honor.” … Chinese Customs and Economic Crime Police are the heroes in the minds of many U.S. (European as well) companies. … Having said that, why the western world is still so frustrated? The simple answer is that the magnitude of counterfeit trade is huge and the technology related IP issues have caught almost every western leaders of public and private sectors’ attention.
3) …In terms of fighting counterfeiting trademark and copyright piracy, there is no difference between industries. Pfizer, J&J and many other pharm giants got tremendous support from the Chinese police to conduct serious criminal investigations on counterfeit rings. Our semiconductor members got the support too. The problem was with prosecutors and courts, which believe that IP owners were not the victims of IP crimes … and that paying civil damages would suffice while no need to put people in jail. The Chinese police are on our side. Some procuratorates are too… [I]n terms of fighting counterfeiting, industrial differences is not an issue at all. However, I agree with Mark partially that technology-related IP protection may be a different story. As I said earlier in this email, forced tech transfer is NOT a real issue from the perspective of many QBPC front line IP soldiers. But lack of effective legal framework for trade secret protection, which threatens both foreign and domestic companies, national treatment for FIEs in terms of the implementation of national innovation and technological policies, FIEs’ participation in the national technological standard setting, the harmonization of “Regulations on Administration for Import and Export of Technology Transfer” and the tech transfer section of Contract Law etc. are the real concerned areas of QBPC IP experts. …”
The ABRO case may also have some parallels with the current controversy involving extradition of Meng Wanzhou of Huawei. In the ABRO case, the Chinese government also reacted strongly to the arrest of Yuan Hongwei, the alleged Hunanese counterfeiter in London, on a writ of extradition to the US. Ultimately the ABRO case quieted down as the facts became better known.
Jack also graciously noted of my own involvement in the ABRO case: “Without your telling me the ABRO story in the old days, QBPC might have rejected ABRO’s application to join QBPC and the Chinese colleagues might turn their anger to the USG. You probably did not know how critical your contribution was to the QBPC (possibly to China’s anti-counterfeiting momentum). I thank you now!! All the best!”
Thank you Jack, Bill Mansfield, the team at ABRO and NPR and others for working together on this important case and sharing your memories and insights.