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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Police Raid Nets 1.5 Million Counterfeit Bics

An Indian businessman was at a loss for words Tuesday when an assortment of militiamen, French executives and journalists surprised him red-, black- and blue-handed with 1.5 million counterfeit Bic pens, street value about $150,000.

While it may not go down as one of the great police raids in Russian history, the men from Paris-based Bic said it was a major coup for the protection of trademark rights in Russia

"Russians buy these shoddy imitations and think Bic quality has declined, but they are really quite different products," said Phillippe P?l? Clamour, managing director of Bic's Moscow office, as he tore through piles of ersatz pens for the benefit of television cameras.

About 1 billion ballpoint pens are sold in Russia every year. Bic says its genuine pens have about 20 percent of the market, but that illegal imitations have another 15 percent. Little wonder that the French company, the world's No. 1 producer, is desperate to crack down on pirates.

Tuesday's raid was the latest in a series by the Moscow police economic crimes unit, which has pledged to get tough on counterfeiters. Previous actions were aimed at counterfeit compact discs, music tapes and computer software.

Some of the Indian-made fakes confiscated Tuesday from a cellar on Kokkinaki Street carried the label "Big" in script identical to that used by Bic. The only difference was that the stylized "c" was inverted to resemble a "g."

"If it causes consumer deception, there is a case to pursue," said Denis Voyevodin, trademark attorney with patent lawyers Sojuzpatent. "The Russian patent office has the last word on whether consumer deception has happened."

But even after deception is established, current Russian law is soft on the fraudsters. A militia operative at the Kokkinaki street swoop said the Indian dealer, Muninder Sadarangani, faced no more than confiscation of the merchandise and a small fine.

That will change in January, however, when a new law makes things tougher on counterfeiters.

"When the new criminal code comes in on Jan. 1, such people will face a $7,000 fine and up to two years in jail," said Voyevodin.

Bic has faced a mounting problem with imitators and now has four executives working on the problem full-time.

"Counterfeit pens are no big problem on developed markets, where patent law is strictly enforced, but they are doing us serious damage in the Middle East, Africa and East Europe," said Charles de Menthon, Bic's export director, who was in Moscow for Tuesday's operation.

"We can sometimes strike at the factories, and we recently closed down a fake Bic manufacturer near Shanghai, but these people move 100 meters and start back up a month later," said Menthon.

China and India are the main sources of fake Bics, but they can also come from Syria, Thailand or Malaysia. The tip of a Syrian "Bic," displayed as a trophy in the company's Moscow office, collapsed at the first attempt to write.