AUSTRALIAN wool growers are being ”ripped off” an estimated $64 million a year by counterfeit products marked by the well-known Woolmark label.
Australian Wool Innovation, which owns the trademark, has been involved in 44 counterfeit cases in 2012 compared with 12 in 2010. Two cases have been in court this year with legal action taken in another 12 disputes.
Employing a team of lawyers internationally to protect the mark for products made from 100 per cent Australian wool, AWI has found that most infringements are being committed in China and southern Europe.
The industry body has invested heavily to promote the label in recent years and commissioned world-renowned Australian photographer Anne Geddes to take images of babies in nests of wool. She is also currently shooting a calendar for Woolmark.
Now the body is fighting back against counterfeit products with the introduction of high-tech identification labels known as Near Field Communication, where a chip is identified and read by a smartphone app. The chip is usually placed on the washing instructions label and likely to appear on an increasing number of garments as the technology is rolled out. Some products are embedded with a Woolmark hologram that can only be seen with a magnifying glass.
AWI chief executive Stuart McCullough, said: ”We know we are getting ripped off and we know that our brand is being used out there illegally. In one court case won by the AWI a company had even painted the logo on the front of its building, it’s not like they were putting it on a handkerchief.
”We are very touchy about it because in the ’90s every physical asset the Australian wool industry had was sold … The Woolmark is one of the few that we have left – it is a wonderful asset and it is certainly worth protecting and we will protect it vigorously. If our licence holders are buying a licence we don’t want them competing against someone who hasn’t paid for it, one that’s a rogue and providing an inferior product. We want to protect them.”
In January, a Queensland manufacturer, Gold Coast Wool, had to pay a $6600 fine after being pursued by the ACCC for contravening consumer protection laws. ACCC tests found wool doonas and underlays sold mainly to Asian tourists as pure Australian wool contained 42 per cent polyester. The Woolmark logo was falsely used by the company.
Global wool retail apparel sales equate to about $80 billion a year. It is estimated that 8 per cent of this is marked with the Woolmark logo. The AWI estimates that about 1 per cent of that – or $64 million a year – is counterfeit and illegal use of the logo by retailers.
AWI’s chief marketing officer, Rob Langtry, said the crackdown on fake products was also about protecting jobs. ”When people don’t have strong brands they have tried to use the woolmark as a substitute and that’s about pricing,” he said.
”Their belief is, if it has got a recognisable symbol on it, then they can sell it for more. I think if it were allowed to go unchecked and we weren’t doing the policing that we are doing then it would cost jobs.
”If merino wool out of Australia, which is a certain quality, is substituted for a poorer quality wool fibre from a different place, that costs an Australian wool grower a sale opportunity.”
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