Money is often the first thing people think about when they hear about counterfeiting.
“People might be surprised when they learn about how many other trademarks or copyrights are being stolen,” said Multnomah County Deputy District Attorney Sean Hughey, who specializes in intellectual property theft prosecutions.
Recently, DDA Hughey presented at an annual Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) training in Albany, Oregon.
Intellectual property, which is protected by patents, copyright and trademarks, refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names and images used in commerce, according to the World Intellectual Property Organization.
The United States Department of Homeland Security Investigations will typically work with the United States Attorney’s Office to investigate and litigate cases where the loss to an individual or business exceeds $1 million.
“The public may not realize that Oregon has laws that protect intellectual property,” DDA Hughey said. “I think the common belief is that these cases aren’t prosecuted. Part of this training was to educate and remind law enforcement, both at the state and federal level, about our willingness to move forward on these cases because there can absolutely be a hazard to public safety in some of these cases.”
The Portland Police Bureau has an intellectual property crimes detective who works closely with DDA Hughey on cases that involve intellectual property being stolen.
“The theft of intellectual property can include counterfeit airbags, fake pharmaceuticals, fake designer handbags and other luxury goods all the way up to fake electronics such as phones and music,” DDA Hughey said. “Really, there’s no end to what type of intellectual property can be stolen.”
Several years ago, Multnomah County Deputy District Attorney Chuck Mickley prosecuted a woman who sold counterfeit high-end luxury brand merchandise. She would advertise and host “purse parties” at hotels to sell the knock-off purses at prices well below what the genuine designer brands would have cost. During the investigation, law enforcement calculated that the retail value of all of the handbags, had they been real, was more than $62,000. Selling counterfeit merchandise is unlawful even if the buyer is aware that the merchandise is counterfeit.
“The demand for some items can be especially high,” DDA Hughey said. “In the case involving the ‘purse parties,’ that suspect was reportedly making $500 to $600 a month by selling fake merchandise.”
In 2009, a routine traffic stop resulted in law enforcement finding nearly 800 pirated music CDs that were intended to be sold at a flea market in Gresham. Detectives learned that the suspect in that case was buying the fake CDs for $1 and then selling them for $5. The manufacture suggested retail price for the CDs was $10. That case was also prosecuted by DDA Mickley.
Last year, the Portland Police Bureau and the Multnomah County Health Department issued a warning to the public after learning counterfeit prescription drugs were being illegally sold throughout the metro, state and online.
The illegal counterfeit drugs were marketed and sold as prescription drugs such as Xanax, Oxycodone, Alprazolam and others. The counterfeit drugs often contained extremely potent substances that have, in the past, caused overdose deaths.
“There’s a huge risk in buying pharmaceuticals away from a known and trusted pharmacist,” said DDA Hughey. “The labels may say one thing but these pills could be loaded with all sorts of different stuff – being manufactured in uncontrolled environments and that could result in worsening side effects, and as we’ve seen, death by overdose.”
DDA Hughey encourages members of the community to be on the lookout for counterfeit items. Often times these items can be sold on the street or online.
“Common sense can go a long way towards protecting yourself,” DDA Hughey said. “It doesn’t make sense for a product that would normally cost $2,500, such as a watch or a designer handbag, to be sold by a street vendor or on a random website for $30.”
DDA Hughey also warned that counterfeit products, especially clothing, can be advertised online through social media sites like Instagram.
“Not only could you be buying a knockoff item, you could be handing over your personal financial information to someone overseas who may not have the level of data encryption a traditional retailer would have on their official website,” DDA Hughey said.
Furthermore, if someone is selling authentic designer merchandise well below its true market value there is a high likelihood the product was stolen.
The Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office encourages members of the public who come across items that they suspect are counterfeit to contact law enforcement. In Multnomah County, the non-emergency phone number is 503.823.3333. The National Crime Prevention Council has additional links and resources as well.
- ORS 647.150 – Trademark counterfeiting in the first degree
- ORS 647.145 – Trademark counterfeiting in the second degree
- ORS 647.140 – Trademark counterfeiting in the third degree
- ORS 647.135 – Trademark counterfeiting
Contact: Brent Weisberg, Communications Director