Yesterday’s Cambodia Daily (print edition only) reported on a police raid that seized 700 bottles of fake Johnnie Walker whiskey. Refilling and distributing counterfeit alcohol is not only a violation of trademark law, but also highly dangerous to public health. Bootleg bottlers have been known to add all sorts of nasty things to their concoctions to boost the alcohol content. According to the article, the legitimate Johnnie Walker distributor will be launching an advertisement campaign to teach drinkers how to tell the difference between the real stuff and imitations.

This is exactly the right strategy. Counterfeit goods are a major problem for too many companies, as they undermine consumer confidence in their product and erode profits. Johnnie Walker is going after both the supply and demand sides of the problem. Coordinated police raids, blocking of imports, and court cases can disrupt the supply chain, hopefully persuading the infringers to move on to a more legitimate line of work. But an effective anti-counterfeit strategy needs also to deal with consumer demand. If consumers can’t tell the difference between fakes and the real thing, or worse, don’t care which they buy, then no amount supply disruption will solve the problem. This is a long-term process – a single raid won’t shut down the counterfeiters for good, and consumer preferences don’t change overnight. It requires a sustained investment in monitoring, advertising, and legal action.

Though counterfeits of many goods are widely available in Cambodia, in my opinion this is due in part to lack of effort on the part of trademark owners. The legislation is in place and the authorities have been established. These laws are not self-enforcing though – it’s up to the trademark owners to figure out who is ripping off their products and complain to the relevant authorities. Though enforcement might not be perfect the first time, Johnnie Walker is showing that effective action is possible.

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