Seemingly identical: Illegal counterfeits

Counterfeit products are a problem at a national economic level

The damage to the national economy in Germany through counterfeit products is estimated to be around EUR 50 billion. Jobs are lost and sales losses present companies with huge challenges. At the same time, consumers are faced with lack of quality, wear and tear and even health risks. The entire German sanitary ware industry is committed to quality products, environmentally-friendly production and fair employee management In the fight against product counterfeiting.

At first sight they appear to be identical in shape, colour and function - but a second glance and actual usage show: the product is not the true product. Product piracy has plagued German sanitary ware manufacturers for decades. Progressive trends such as globalisation, the Internet and technical tools, for example 3D printers, favour the occurrence of counterfeits. “Counterfeits are not a cheap alternative to the original. They are merely a deception that seems harmless but which brings with it incalculable risks”, says Wolfgang Burchard, spokesman for the Blue Responsibility initiative.

Threat to the economy

“Counterfeit products destroy the value chain”, says Dirk Lückemann from Schell. “Products are involved in time-consuming and costly processes, they go through product cycles and require re-investment at some stage.” In this process, counterfeiting poses a huge threat: Intellectual theft leads to investments in research and development barely being worthwhile. The loss of skilled jobs - several thousand per year in Germany - also presents challenges for companies. “We assume that we could create around 100 new jobs without the many counterfeit products”, explains Andreas Dornbracht from the company of the same name. Even if jobs could be retained, the economic losses from product piracy are a huge drawback: According to a study in 2015 by the management consultancy Ernst & Young, losses to German companies run at EUR 56 billion per year.

Appreciation of originals

Besides sanitary ware manufacturers, the retail trade, installers and end users are affected by considerable safety risks, since counterfeits are never as good as original products in terms of quality. “Our products come into contact with our greatest commodity: drinking water - the one foodstuff for which there is no substitute. We therefore place the greatest important on fulfilling the requirements down to the smallest details”, says Christoph Weis from Neoperl. In Germany, industrial and installation companies are obliged to use only materials that comply with the standards, to thereby ensure the purity of drinking water. These approvals required for materials and colour pigments in the sensitive drinking water field are rarely fulfilled, however, in the case of product counterfeits. “Counterfeit products often contain a high proportion of scrap metal. The brass alloys contain too much lead, nickel and cadmium. This can lead to allergic reactions and in the long term even to organ damage", says Dirk Lückemann. Besides this, counterfeit products facilitate the transmission of infections: for example, a missing check valve brings the risk of bacterial contamination in the entire drinking water installation.

Appalling materials for drinking water, insufficient mechanical stability and the risks of injury not only represent a risk to health but also result in considerable damage to the reputation of any company. Design can be copied to some extent but the quality of manufacturing cannot.

Establishing marks against product piracy

Trust is good, control is better. Based on this motto, Germany sanitary ware providers such as Neoperl, conduct regular checks at trade fairs and monitor market developments in Asia and in particular in China. In the case of contravention of property rights, legal action is taken against manufacturers as well as providers. The objective: the permanent removal of counterfeit products from the market.

“A comparatively low price is always suspicious”, explains Veit Szpak from Mepa. Many counterfeit products can also be recognised by their lack of test mark. “And of course by the poor material and processing quality. But unfortunately this is also difficult for end customers to recognise.” If they want to play it safe, they should go to traders that obtain their products from specialist wholesalers for building technology. When purchasing online the risk of acquiring a counterfeit product is considerably higher.

The objective: sustainable production

Due to low-quality materials and substances that damage the environment and health, counterfeit products do not meet the demands of sustainability in any way. The fact they will wear out early renders them a false economy. The absence of warranties for counterfeit products leaves little scope for compensation claims by users, which in turn leads to dissatisfaction. There may also be problems in terms of insurance, if for example, water damage is caused by the installation of counterfeit products. Counterfeits are therefore not sustainable at any level – either from an ecological social point of view. “We have to protect ourselves against progressive product piracy collectively", says Wolfgang Burchard. For example, he sees effective measures as being the customs round at ISH, which the German Valve Manufacturers Association (VDMA) has organised along with customs since 2007. About 200 products were seized in previous years during each of these rounds.