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By Aldwin R. Fajardo Staff Reporter

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (June 2, 2000 – Saipan Tribune/Abridged)---There is only one way to know whether the Louis Vuitton item you are keeping an eye on is genuine or counterfeit and being able to pick one from the other does not require special expertise or training from the customs division.

Louis Vuitton Asia-Pacific Anti-Counterfeiting head Frederic Thiry said the item is 100 percent fake if it is being peddled in a shop other than the official company shop which, in the case of Saipan, is located at the Duty Free Shoppers Galleria.

While there are other distinct marks that could distinguish the original Louis Vuitton product from the imitation, Mr. Thiry said this information is highly classified and can be disclosed only to the proper government authorities that handle programs against counterfeiting.

He explained that some unscrupulous mind could always find a way to imitate whatever distinct qualities an original item may have to make their counterfeit products look genuine.

He stressed that Louis Vuitton products bargained elsewhere on the island than at the official company store at the DFS Galleria are, without a doubt counterfeit items.

"There is only one simple advice we from Louis Vuitton could give our customers and that is to buy only from our legitimate store. That way, they are assured that they get only the genuine LV products that offer true value for their money," Mr. Thiry said in an interview.

He added that Louis Vuitton is giving special attention to Saipan and Guam, the islands being a prime tour destination for overseas Japanese travelers who are also among the company's more important customers.

He explained that a large number of Japanese travelers visit Saipan each month and account for the largest existing and potential market for Louis Vuitton products, thus, the increased vigilance against the entry and proliferation of fake counterfeit items here.

"We could say that the problem here is already too much in the sense that Saipan is a tour destination. It attracts visitors from Japan, which is a big market for us, and we would like to take care of that market as much as we can," he stressed.

Mr. Thiry said there is a special need to increase awareness against the proliferation of fake Louis Vuitton products in the Northern Marianas in order to preserve the islands' image and reputation as a prime tour destination.

He pointed out that an intensified program against counterfeiting would work to the advantage of both Saipan and the Louis Vuitton Company because it facilitates better protection of Saipan as a destination that carries only original and genuine products.

Legal Action

Mr. Thiry also stressed that the company is not taking it easy on counterfeiters and retailers who carry fake Louis Vuitton products. He said they will be dealt with through appropriate legal actions.

There have been numerous instances when Louis Vuitton had to bring cases to court to prosecute unscrupulous individuals who violate not only the company's intellectual property rights but also the consumers' right to genuine and original products.

However, he admitted that the situation in the Northern Marianas is not as alarming as those in South Korea, Thailand and the Philippines were most of the Saipan-bound counterfeit Louis Vuitton items are produced.

"We do court actions all the time in the Asia-Pacific region. Obviously, there are countries where the problems we face are much more important in terms of size and extent so we have many more cases there," he said.

Anti-counterfeiting drive

The company sponsored a special training seminar yesterday aimed at increasing the awareness of officers of the CNMI customs division stationed at the Saipan International Airport and the Saipan International Harbor about the distinct marks of genuine Louis Vuitton products.

The training program is part of the company's global efforts to combat the proliferation of counterfeiting of Louis Vuitton products. It is expected to help CNMI customs officers prevent the entry of fake items into the Commonwealth.

Mr. Thiry said the company had conducted similar training on Guam earlier in the week, following a successful campaign that was launched in Europe.

"We are doing this because we think that this is one way wherein we can improve our cooperation with the CNMI customs in our battle against counterfeiters. This is quite a big issue for us," he said, adding that Guam and Saipan are two important markets for Louis Vuitton.

Mr. Thiry disclosed that Louis Vuitton spends a lot of money in the protection of the company's intellectual property rights, as well as all its creations, because so much money is being lost due to the widespread retailing of fake items.

Counterfeiting not only affects the company's direct sales but also its image, according to the Louis Vuitton executive who flew in from Hong Kong to the Marianas for the seminar.

"That's why we are so concerned and so active on our efforts to protect not only the legitimate business but also the image of the company.

"Counterfeiting is actually an attack against the creativity and the image of the company," he emphasized.

For additional reports from The Saipan Tribune, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Saipan Tribune.

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