Taking the fizz out of forgery

The recent six-month jail sentence imposed on a Coventry man who refused to obey an injunction ordering him to give information about fellow members of a gang counterfeiting Coca-Cola and Schweppes drinks has been welcomed by lawyers who specialise in intellectual property.

Mr Justice Lightman's tough stance against Peter Pericleous in the Chancery Division of the High Court is viewed as a sign to all counterfeiters that the courts are not prepared to put up with their activities.

Solicitor Tony Willoughby, who represented Coca-Cola and Schweppes, has no doubt that the sentence is a warning.

Willoughby, who joined London-based intellectual property specialist Rouse & Co from Herbert Smith last year, is a veteran fighter in the war against forgery.

And he is no stranger to protecting the drinks industry against pirates, although in the past he played a role against whisky counterfeiting.

The case served to illustrate the range of forgers' operations. Rolex watches, brand-name trainers and shirts, perfumes and records might spring to mind when considering counterfeiting, but as this case shows, anything is seen as fair game by the pirates if there is a quick profit to be made.

The pirate products in this case were not cans or bottles of Coke and lemonade but rather the concentrated syrup supplied 'bag in box' form and mixed with carbonated water to provide drinks from pumps in pubs, restaurants and other catering establishments.

The case came to light after customer complaints that the containers were leaking. Examination of the returned products revealed they were counterfeits. The investigations which followed uncovered a factory set-up to produce them.

Matthew Conrad, another member of the Rouse & Co team, said: "It may sound an unusual target but it should be remembered that to the counterfeiters counterfeiting is nothing more than what seems to them an easy way of making money. Our job is to make them realise it is a high risk activity carrying heavy penalties and this judgment will help.

"Counterfeiters these days range from organised gangs looking to launder drug money down to the small timer with a lock-up near a market."

Willoughby believes the case which led to Pericleous' jailing is a textbook example of the teamwork necessary in any counterfeiting operation.

"Luck apart, the most important aspect in cases such as these is team work," he said. "It is essential that the clients, their investigators, lawyers and those such as trading standards departments are all working together. We had superb teamwork here and that is how we achieved such quick results in tracing the factory where the products were being produced and closing it down.

"The case also served as a good illustration of just how quickly the courts can and will move on such matters," he said.

The Anton Piller order was also used effectively by the Rouse & Co team.

Willoughby, who reckons he has obtained around 200 Anton Piller search and seize orders during the course of his career, said: "Properly used and with the appropriate expertise the order is a very effective weapon. Problems did arise at one time in relation to its increasing use and abuse in other areas of the law – notably breach of confidence actions against ex-employees – but the procedure has now been tightened up significantly.

"Its use in this case, however, in assisting us to trace the culprits demonstrates how important it still is and how effective it can be when used in the right circumstances."

Counsel in the case was Michael Tappin. Peter Leaver QC was brought in to lead him in the committal application.