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EU Intellectual Property Office strips McDonald’s of ‘Big Mac’ trademark after battle with small Irish rival

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‘Big Mac’ trademark

The EU’s Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) has stripped McDonald’s of its Big Mac trademark across Europe after the fact food giant lost a legal battle with a tiny rival chain in Ireland.

After a “David and Goliath” legal battle over the trademarking of the terms “Big Mac” and “Mc”, the EUIPO ruled in favour of Galway-based Supermac, telling McDonald’s that it had failed to prove “genuine use” of the terms in relation to a burger or restaurant.

The ruling means that other companies can use the terms, which McDonald’s trademarked in 1996.

Legal documents show the case was brought before the EUIPO in 2017 after McDonald’s objected to its smaller rival planning to expand into Britain and Europe.

Although Supermac does not and has never sold a product named “Big Mac”, McDonald’s argued that the company’s name sounded too similar to its most-famous burger, which it claimed would give the Irish firm an unfair advantage.

Supermac urged the EUIPO to revoke McDonald’s ownership of the “Mc” and “Big Mac” trademarks, accusing its much-larger competitor of “trademark bullying” and arguing that it registered protected names without using them in a bid to stifle competition.

The Irish firm noted that McDonald’s had trademarked the name of one of its most popular products, the SnackBox, even though the American company has never sold a product with that name.

EU rules stipulate that if a trademark has not been used for five years, the owner loses protection for it.

Dismissing McDonald’s claim, the EUIPO said in its ruling: “It follows from the above that the [trademark] proprietor has not proven genuine use of the contested [trademark] for any of the goods and services for which it is registered.

“As a result, the application for revocation is wholly successful and the contested [trademark] must be revoked in its entirety.”

Speaking with the Irish Independent after the ruling was handed down, Supermac founder and Manging Director Pat McDonagh said: “It’s been a long road, nearly four years, but it was worth it to help protect businesses that are trying to compete against faceless multinationals.

“It doesn’t matter how big or how small you are, it’s great that you can get a hearing from the European office. I’m delighted with the result; I was hopeful for a positive outcome – but not to the extent to which we won.”

McDonald’s, which has yet to comment on the court’s ruling, can now appeal the decision.

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Global food fraud crackdown results in seizure of goods worth $117 million and arrest of 672 suspects

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global food fraud crackdown

Fake food and drink products estimated to be worth $117 million have been seized during a global coordinated crackdown on food fraud coordinated by Interpol and Europol’s Intellectual Property Crime Coordination Centre.

Law enforcement officials taking part in the latest instalment of Operation Opson, which is intended to target criminals involved in the sale of counterfeit and substandard food and drink products, also arrested 672 individuals across the world.

Taking place between December 2018 and April this year, Operation Opson VIII saw police, customs officers, food regulatory authorities and private sector partners in 78 countries target individuals and organisations involved in the growing global food fraud trade.

Investigators participating in the effort successfully removed approximately 16, 000 tonnes and 33 million litres of potentially dangerous fake food and drink from global supply chains after collectively carrying out over 67,000 inspections at shops, markets, airports, seaports and industrial estates.

Authorities contributing to the operation reported discovering cheese and chicken products labelled with fraudulent expiry dates, drink products that had been adulterated with controlled drugs, and meat that was stored in unsanitary conditions.

In Zimbabwe, police confiscated more than 14,000 litres of soft drinks that contained high levels of the active ingredient in erectile dysfunction medication, while investigators in Belarus impounded more than 60 tonnes of apples that were being transported under forged documentation.

Law enforcement officers in Russia seized 4,200 litres of counterfeit alcohol as they shut down an illicit vodka production site, while their colleagues in South Africa detained three suspects in connection with the discovery of alcohol meant for export that had been repackaged and sold domestically to avoid taxes.

Elsewhere, customs investigators in Italy seized over 150,000 litres of poor-quality sunflower oil that fraudsters had attempted to pass off as extra virgin oil by adding chlorophyll and beta-carotene to the finished product.

Revealing the results of the latest Opson operation in a statement, Interpol Director of Organised and Emerging Crime Paul Stanfield said: “Counterfeit and substandard food and beverages can be found on the shelves in shops around the world, and their increasing sale online is exacerbating the threat that food crime poses to the public.

“Operation Opson VIII saw a substantial amount of counterfeit food and drink taken out of circulation, but there is much more that can be done.

“Interpol calls for further efforts and better coordination at the national, regional and international levels in order to stem this tide which endangers the health of consumers worldwide.”

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Counterfeit and smuggled consumer goods worth $3.5 million seized across Americas and Caribbean

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counterfeit and smuggled consumer goods worth $3.5 million

An Interpol-backed crackdown on counterfeit and smuggled consumer goods across the Americas and Caribbean has resulted in the seizure of hundreds of thousands of potentially dangerous items.

Operation Maya III saw law enforcement agencies in Belize, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico and Panama carry out a series of raids and inspections on markets, shops and at borders.

In total, investigators participating in the effort, which took place back in April, confiscated some 746,000 items estimated to be worth around $3.5 million.

The operation also resulted in the identification of 150 individuals and 65 companies suspected of being involved in the sale and distribution of smuggled and counterfeit consumer items.

As part of the crackdown, law enforcement agents in Cuba seized 8,000 contraceptive pills that were destined for Venezuela, while their counterparts in the Dominican Republic impounded 1,700 units of suspected adulterated alcohol that is believed to have been smuggled into the country from Haiti.

In Mexico, investigators taking part in the operation discovered 215,000 units of counterfeit toothpaste that originated in China, as well as 185,000 units of counterfeit pens intended for local distribution.

Due to the scale of the operation, several items that were outside of its scope were also seized, including weapons and drugs, Interpol said in a statement.

A number of individuals thought to have links to human trafficking were also identified as a result of the effort.

Commenting on the success of the operation, Daoming Zhang, Head of Interpol’s Illicit Markets Sub-Directorate, said: “As a regional operation across nine countries, cross-border and cross-sector collaboration in real time was crucial to the success of Operation Maya III.

“Interpol is uniquely placed to coordinate such activity and will continue to support its member countries in disrupting illicit trade and bringing the perpetrators to justice.”

Separately, it has been widely reported this morning that former Interpol boss Meng Hongwei has admitted during a hearing at a court in China to taking bribes totalling $2 million.

Meng, who was the first Chinese leader of Interpol, went missing while on a trip back to China from France last September.

It later emerged that he had been arrested by Chinses authorities as part of a major crackdown against corruption.

The Chinese state said back in March that an investigation into Meng revealed he had abused his power and spent “lavish” amounts of state funds while working in various senior police roles prior to being appointed as head of Interpol.

A court in the northern city of Tianjin said it will announce its verdict later after Meng pleaded guilty to the charges laid against him.

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Criminal money mule recruiters increasingly targeting middle-aged Britons, UK fraud prevention agency finds

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money mule recruiters increasingly targeting middle-aged Britons

A new report from UK fraud prevention service Cifas has revealed that criminals ae increasingly targeting middle-aged Britons in a bid to persuade them to act as money mules.

In the latest edition of its annual Fraudscape study, Cifas said that it received more than 40,000 cases which “bore the hallmarks” of money mule activity in 2018, which was up 26% compared to the previous year.

While a rise in money mule activity was recorded across all age groups, the largest increase (35%) was seen among those aged between 41 and 60 last year.

Money mules agree to allow their bank accounts to be used by criminals to launder the proceeds of their illegal activities, and are typically offered a cut of the money they move as a commission, or high-value items such as expensive trainers in return.

Recruiters typically target potential mules online via social media platforms, historically seeking out young male victims who might be in financial difficulty, such as the unemployed or students.

While Cifas’ latest report shows that young people under the age of 30 are still by far the primary target of money mule recruiters, last year saw a marked rise in the number of older people becoming involved in the crime, albeit from a very low starting point.

More widely, the report reveals that Cifas members recorded almost 324,000 cases of fraud last year, which was up 6% on 2017.

Commenting on the contents of the study, Cifas CEO Mike Haley said: “Fraud in the UK continues to rise and fraudsters are constantly finding new methods of committing fraud.

“From identity theft through to using the young and naïve as money mules to launder money, the economic and social harm to the nation is growing.

“The only way to fight the threat is to combine communication and collaboration, working together to present a united front against the perpetrators.”

Acting as a money mule might seem like an easy way to make some quick cash, but those caught allowing their accounts to be used for the laundering of the proceeds of criminal activities can face stiff penalties, and will rarely be able to plead ignorance if they are caught.

Back in April of this year, police in Ireland warned students thinking of acting as money mules that they could face as many as 14 years behind bars if they allowed their bank accounts to be used by criminals to launder money.

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