Tenneco Automotive Inc. seized allegedly counterfeit bushings exhibited by four separate foreign companies at the Automotive Aftermarket Products Expo (AAPEX) in Las Vegas the week of Nov. 3.
Show officials forced the four companies-two from Taiwan, one from South Korea and one from India-to remove the rubber-to-metal components from their booths at the show and warned them they would be made to leave if they displayed any counterfeit products.
The 10 bushings displayed bore Tenneco Automotive's Clevite Elastomers and Harris brand names, as well as its part numbers and unique Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) codes, charged Tenneco Chief Engineer Jim Lewis.
Tenneco had identified and confronted two counterfeiters at last year's AAPEX show, so this year it looked specifically for those products, Mr. Lewis said. The two companies Tenneco confronted at the 2002 show were not displaying counterfeit products this year, but in their place were four different companies. ``It appears to be the problem is escalating,'' he said.
The four companies showing allegedly fake goods this year spoke freely to Mr. Lewis as he and his co-workers walked the show floor and inspected all rubber parts on display. ``They were looking at us as potential customers; we were asking a lot of questions,'' he said. ``It was kind of alarming that these companies will offer these products at very low costs or no tooling.''
When Tenneco recognized counterfeit products, it consulted its legal department and show officials, he said. Each of the alleged counterfeiters turned over the questionable bushings, when asked, after Tenneco highlighted the legalities of the situation, Mr. Lewis said.
``We do have customers at this show who are looking at product,'' he said. ``Our concern is that they're looking at product that they think is Tenneco product'' because of the name usage, part numbers and unique RMA codes on the parts.
Tenneco plans to pursue legal action against the four companies to ensure the counterfeit parts it found can't be imported into the U.S., he said. ``We need to help the customs officials identify where it's coming from; this is something that we're going to take a very close look at in the future.''
As of Nov. 6, AAPEX show organizers this year had received 10 complaints of hard parts counterfeiting-up from six or seven at the 2002 show, said Marc Fleishaker, general counsel for the Motor Equipment Manufacturers Association (MEMA), a co-sponsor of the expo. The event is part of Automotive Aftermarket Industry Week and runs in conjunction with the Specialty Equipment Market Association/ International Tire Expo, which was held Nov. 4-7 in Las Vegas.
Of the complaints, MEMA only felt justified in approaching seven or eight companies and asking them to remove the offensive products and literature. ``The others weren't clear to us,'' Mr. Fleishaker said. ``They were licensing or patent issues which were too complicated to address at the show.''
One or two of the problems were tied to a U.S. importer, but the others emanated from India, China or Korea, he said. ``We're trying to be more aggressive and encourage the main line companies to come to us if they have a problem with counterfeiting,'' he said.
Seizing counterfeit products at a trade show is helpful in taking away a company's display platform, said Anat Hakim, a partner with the Washington office of Foley & Lardner and speaker during the expo on the topic of counterfeiting.
``But the more significant dent that you can make reaches beyond the show and lies in pursuing either civil or criminal remedies.''
Civil remedies allow an injured company to sue both domestic and foreign entities, she said, and criminal statutes enacted in the mid-1980s carry penalties of up to $5 million and/or 10 years in prison.
``The FBI has labeled counterfeiting the crime of the 21st century,'' Ms. Hakim said, because it has proliferated into a $350 billion global problem across all industries. Historically, it has been viewed as a low-risk, high-profit business.
``These counterfeiters are not going to stop until the civil and criminal penalties available are aggressively enforced and until companies take it upon themselves to have very aggressive, in-house anti-counterfeiting programs,'' Ms. Hakim said.