Resellers have been urged to start lobbying the European Union over the proposed Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement Directive, which fails to address price undercutting across member states.
While grey importers offer goods never intended for sale in the EU, and can easily be prosecuted under existing law, the position is less clear for goods authorised for sale in one member state but not in another.
Draft regulations going through the European Parliament designed to tighten intellectual property rights may still allow 'parallel importers' to continue operating without sanctions.
Current legal provisions protect the rights of original manufacturers and vendors up to the point of sale to a consumer, distributor or reseller.
Once a product has been lawfully supplied to an official importer the rights of the original manufacturer or vendor are exhausted.
This means that original vendors and resellers have very little recourse to intellectual property rights law to prevent parallel importers selling unauthorised goods that undercut them on price.
The Directive is currently in a consultation phase that ends on 12 January 2004. Interested resellers should contact the UK Patent Office.
Dr Jeremy Philpott, UK Patent Office press officer, said: "We want to know what people think should be the Directive's definitions of counterfeit and piracy. For example, should parallel imports be covered by this legislation?"
Hamish Sandison, a partner at international law firm Bird & Bird, and an intellectual property rights expert, stated: "The directive should make sure that any substantive rights on the part of the vendor or manufacturer are properly protected.
"Parallel imports are certainly a problem in many industries, particularly where trademarks are involved."
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