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Should the law department run a company’s anti-counterfeiting activities?

A piece in Counsel to Counsel, May 28 at 10, showcases the efforts of the computer manufacturer Lenovo to combat worldwide counterfeiting of its products. “As the company’s legal representative, inside counsel must ensure that processes are in place to watch for and identify counterfeit items early on, aggressively pursue and prosecute counterfeiters, and reassure partners, the public and government regulators that the company’s products are trustworthy.” Certainly, the general counsel of Lenovo, Michael O’Neill, believes that oversight of anti-counterfeit efforts falls within the ambit of the legal department.

Undoubtedly, companies need to know the laws that pertain to fake products and how to cut them off legally, which means that lawyers need to provide counsel, but much of the associated leg work does not require legal training. To monitor Internet and bricks-and-mortar sellers and manufacturers, to investigate customer complaints, to purchase samples of suspicious products and identify them as knock-offs, to train port-of-entry law enforcement and customs agencies, to educate and calm consumers, to take part in raids, and to lobby with peer companies for protective laws and regulations does not require the oversight of a lawyer.

It seems to me that crack-downs on counterfeits sits right at the edge of the law department’s scope of responsibility.