A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, or design, or a combination of words, phrases, symbols, or designs, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others. They thus identify the producer of a product and serve as an indicator of quality. They also inform consumers where to seek recourse if the product fails. Some forms of trademarks have been around for thousands of years. Visitors to the Great Wall in China can still see the original producer’s mark on some of its bricks. This mark allowed the emperors of that time to be assured of quality and, if needed, accountability.
This assurance of quality and accountability is completely lost when counterfeiters illegally use a trademark and deceive consumers with their goods. When many people think of counterfeit goods, they might bring to mind items such as fake Rolex watches, Zippo lighters, or Louis Vuitton handbags. The counterfeiting of these goods does inflict serious harm on legitimate companies, and it deprives governments of lost revenues. But counterfeiting of trademarks has another serious consequence. It can threaten the health and safety of the public.
The United States is not immune to this aspect of the counterfeiting epidemic. In testimony before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee in March 2004, U.S. Assistant Attorney General Christopher Wray provided examples of trademark violations. He noted that, in early 2004, a man from the state of Alabama pled guilty to 28 counts of counterfeiting and pesticide misbranding charges. He sold mislabeled and adulterated pesticides needed to control mosquitoes and, indirectly, West Nile virus, to municipalities and private businesses in a number of U.S. states. The defendant falsely identified the brand name of the pesticide, the manufacturer, and the active ingredients. In another case in 2002, the U.S. Department of Justice convicted a California man on federal charges involving a conspiracy to sell counterfeit baby formula. After exposing thousands in our most vulnerable population to counterfeit baby formula, the defendant fled to Canada in 1995. He was arrested there in 2001 and in 2002 was brought to the United States to stand trial.