April 20, 2009 -- In an interview with Cabling Installation and Maintenance last week, Underwriters Laboratories' consumer safety director John Drengenberg called those who counterfeit communications cable "criminals." On April 2, UL issued an alert to contractors and distributors stating that a box of counterfeit Systimax Category 6 cable had been discovered in China.
On June 16, CI&M had the opportunity to speak with UL's Drengenberg about this issue in particular and UL's approach to counterfeiting in general.
"We are very aggressive with counterfeiters," he began. "We do not take it lightly at all. We consider them to be criminals. ... We do everything we can within the law" to put such counterfeiters out of operation, he added. The specific investigation into the counterfeit Systimax cable is ongoing and UL is actively investigating the product's source.
As of Monday, April 20 it was still unclear whether or not the lot number on the counterfeit cable -- GS01231 -- is also that of a legitimate lot of Systimax Category 6 cable. It is possible that CommScope did produce cable with that lot number; it is also possible that the lot number exists only on counterfeit product. CI&M has an inquiry into CommScope seeking clarification on that point, as well as any other comments they may have on this counterfeiting incident.
During our interview with UL's Drengenberg, he was adamant that this instance of counterfeiting is an affront to two brands - the UL brand as well as the CommScope Systimax brand. He also emphasized the leadership role CommScope plays in this industry as well as the high performance level of the cable it produces. "There is nothing wrong with the Systimax trade name at all," he said. "We can verify that CommScope has valid UL listings." He added, as a comment on Systimax's strong brand performance: "Nobody counterfeits Timex watches. They counterfeit Rolex."
UL works with customs inspectors specifically to guard against counterfeit products entering the United States - specifically from China, which is where a significant amount of counterfeiting takes place, he said. Overall, UL's anti-counterfeiting strategy depends on three main activities: enforcement, education, and partnerships, he added.
Drengenberg also commented that communications cable does not necessarily fit the typical profile of a product that is counterfeited most often. Typically, high-volume, low-priced items including consumer products like power strips, nightlights, and decorative holiday lights are subject to counterfeiting. Those items carry the UL symbol in a holographic print for exactly that reason - they are the most frequently counterfeited items and counterfeiting a holographic symbol adds a layer of complexity that deters many potential perpetrators.
Tracking down counterfeiters is by its nature a difficult task, as is determining the volume of counterfeit products on the market. "People often ask us how many counterfeit items are out there," Drengenberg said. "It's like asking how many counterfeit $20 bills are in your hometown. Counterfeiters don't keep records." Precisely because an item is counterfeit, it is not traceable, he explained.
Cabling Installation & Maintenance will continue to follow this story, and will report any updates that CommScope and/or UL provide.
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UL's anti-counterfeiting operations