April 22nd, 2011
By: Douglas McIntyre
American consumers love bargains. But that zest for getting a coveted product at the lowest price also has an economic downside: It creates a giant opportunity for the scads of shady operators — especially from China — that specialize in pumping out counterfeit versions of the real thing.
U.S. companies lose at least hundreds of millions of dollars a year in sales from products that are counterfeited overseas and shipped to America. The problem’s exact scope isn’t entirely known because most of these products are never seized and, therefore, the federal government can’t get an accurate measurement of the economic loss.
To get a better handle on just how extensive counterfeiting has become, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data from the U.S. Homeland Security Department’s Customs and Border Protection unit, the federal agency charged with enforcing intellectual property rights (IPR) within America’s borders.
The CBP does so by seizing products that infringe the originals’ copyrights and patents. According to the agency, “The theft of intellectual property and trade in fake goods threatens America’s economic vitality and national security, and the American people’s health and safety. Trade in these illicit goods funds criminal activities and organized crime. In Fiscal Year 2009, there were 14,841 intellectual property rights seizures with a domestic value of $260.7 million. Goods from China accounted for 79% of the total domestic value for all IPR seizures.”
The first notable aspect of the data is the astonishing level at which China takes advantage of the U.S. markets. Some estimates by economists say 8% of China’s GDP comes from the sales of counterfeit goods, from software to designer clothing.
In addition to the CBP data, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed information from the Alliance for Gray Market and Counterfeit Abatement, the International Authentication Association, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and PC World magazine.
The one thing that becomes clear from these investigations is that while counterfeiting improves China’s GDP, it undermines economic growth in the U.S. The federal government can do only so much to combat the problem with current resources. Unfortunately, that means the erosion of sales in some industries due to counterfeit goods coming into the U.S. will continue.
Here are the 10 product categories, in descending order, that lose the most money to counterfeit goods.
Value: $99.8 million
Percent of Total Seizures: 38%
Just under $100 million worth of counterfeit footwear was seized entering the U.S. in 2009, by far the greatest amount of any product. By value, 98% of counterfeit footwear originated in China. This was the fourth year in a row that footwear was the top commodity seized.
2. Consumer Electronics
Consumer electronics, such as cell phones, digital music players and cameras, made up 12% of all seizures worth nearly $32 million. China produces most of these electronics, with approximately $18.5 million worth of seizures originating from there. Consumer electronics are also the most popular illegitimate product coming out of Hong Kong, second only to China. They make up 40% of all counterfeit goods that are intercepted from Hong Kong.
Anyone who has walked down a major New York City street has had the opportunity (or several) to buy a fake designer handbag. The CBP seized $21.5 million worth of counterfeit handbags, wallets and backpacks coming into the country. This accounts for 8% of all seized commodities that violated IPR. China exported $19.5 million of these goods.
There was only slightly less apparel seized than handbags, wallets and backpacks. The amount exported from China is also similar, worth $17.9 million. Counterfeit apparel is most often made to resemble designer fashion brands such as Polo Ralph Lauren.
lthough counterfeit watches are readily available in the U.S., over $15.5 million worth of watches and watch parts were seized in 2009. The majority of these items (just over $7.9 million in value) came from Hong Kong. The industry is currently flooded with replicas of every Rolex model available, as well as Panerai and Omega models.
March 8th, 2011
By: Ben Patterson
The more often you use “interactive” electronics like cell phones or video games right before bed, the more likely it is you’ll miss out on deep, restful sleep, a new survey claims. I know the feeling.
The new study from the Washington, D.C.-based National Sleep Foundation isn’t the first to claim that the use of “light-emitting” devices like TVs and iPads just before turning in can disrupt sleep patterns. Researchers say that such “artificial light exposure” at night may make you more alert before you hit the hay, making it tougher to get enough shut-eye.
But it does add a new wrinkle to the discussion: namely, that “interactive” gear like video games, cell phones, and laptops are more likely to mess with a good night’s sleep than “passive” gadgets like television sets.
The survey found that just about all of us (or 95 percent of Americans between the ages of 13 and 64, give or take) feast our eyes on a TV screen, a laptop, a cell phone, or some other type of gadget at least “a few” nights a week within an hour of bedtime.
But the National Sleep Foundation researchers say they found more and more people—particularly so-called Generation Y’ers (20- to 30-somethings) and Generation Z’ers (20-somethings and younger)—using “interactive” gadgets like cell phones and laptop right before bed.
And while watching Leno or Letterman before drifting off isn’t the best recipe for a good night’s sleep, sending one last test message on your phone or blowing away a final bad guy on your Xbox 360 is an even worse idea sleep-wise, according to the study.
The evidence? Turns out that 16 percent of Gen Y’ers and 22 percent of Z’ers—who, apparently, are far more likely to play a video game or send a text message before bedtime—complain that they’re not getting enough restful sleep, compared to 11 percent of Generation X’ers and 9 percent of baby boomers. Or so the study says.
So, what’s the ticket to eight-plus hours of sleep each night? Besides regular exercise, avoiding late-night caffeine and booze, and sticking to a regular sleeping schedule, we’re strongly advised to seek out “bright light” in the morning (which “energizes us” and “prepares us for a productive day”) and keep it dim (i.e., no gadgets with bright screens) at night.
Makes sense, I guess, but easier said than done. Not only do I regularly watch TV until a few minutes before hitting the sack (at least there’s no television in my bedroom), I’m also usually checking e-mail and surfing the Web on my phone at the same time. And yes, I’ve been known to sneak in a little online multiplayer right before diving under the covers.
How am I sleeping? Well … so-so, come to think of it. I rarely have trouble falling asleep, but more and more often, I’ve been waking up early—as in 6 a.m. or so, meaning I’m only getting about six hours of sleep. And I haven’t exactly been bounding out of bed, either.
So, should I turn over a new leaf and leave the gadgets alone after sundown? Probably. Will I? Not a chance.
What about you: Are you watching TV or fiddling with “light-emitting” gadgets right before bed—and if so, having any trouble sleeping?
June 30, 2010
By Tom Chivers
At the moment the tiny robot – a sheet just half a millimetre thick, scarcely thicker than a piece of paper – only folds itself into a boat, like a child’s toy, or a “paper glider” plane shape. But it is anticipated that in future it will be used to create full-sized cars and aircraft that morph as they move, or robots that can “flow” like mercury into small openings, or multipurpose military uniforms that can adapt to different environments.
Researchers at the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) launched the project in 2007 in conjunction with Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It is a small sheet of stiff tiles and “joints” of elastomer, “studded with thin foil actuators and flexible electronics. The demonstration material contains 25 total actuators, divided into five groupings. A shape is produced by triggering the proper actuator groups in sequence,” according to a statement by Robert Wood, the head of the Harvard research team.
February 2, 2010
By S. L. Baker
So many US women have difficulty becoming pregnant that the fertility industry has become a huge business, raking in between three and five billion dollars a year. Now a new study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives raises the possibility that a lot of women who can’t have babies could have flame retardant chemicals to blame — specifically, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), which are commonly found in an alarming number of household consumer products.
In a study involving over 200 women, researchers at the University of California at Berkeley (UC Berkeley) discovered that women with higher blood concentrations of PBDEs took far longer to become pregnant than those with low amounts of the chemicals in their blood. In fact, for every ten-fold increase in blood levels of four PBDE chemicals tested, there was a 30 percent decrease in the odds a woman would conceive a child during a month.
“There have been numerous animal studies that have found a range of health effects from exposure to PBDEs, but very little research has been done in humans. This latest paper is the first to address the impact on human fertility, and the results are surprisingly strong. These findings need to be replicated, but they have important implications for regulators,” the study’s lead author, Kim Harley, said in a statement to the media. Harley is an adjunct assistant professor of maternal and child health and associate director of the Center for Children’s Environmental Health Research at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health.
PBDEs are a class of organobromine compounds found in foam furniture, electronics, fabrics, carpets, plastics and other common household items. They were commonly added to these and other products as flame retardants after the 1970s when new fire safety standards were implemented in the US.
So how big is the problem of homes contaminated by PBDEs? Unfortunately, it appears to be huge. The chemicals are known to leach out into the environment and accumulate in human fat cells. Previous studies have suggested that 97 percent of U.S. residents have detectable levels of PBDEs in their blood and that the levels in Americans are 20 times higher than in their counterparts in Europe.
The most prevalent form of PBDEs found in the blood of women participating in the UC Berkeley study were from a specific formulation known as a pentaBDE mixture. Both this kind of PBDE and another type, octaBDE, have been banned for use in several states — but they are still widely found in products manufactured before 2004.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finally got around to addressing the danger of PBDEs at the end of 2009. Did the agency issue an urgent alarm about products containing the chemicals — even ban them outright to protect consumers? No. Instead, the EPA quietly announced an agreement with three major manufacturers of some forms of PBDEs to phase out production by 2013. Unfortunately, this is clearly too little too late to protect countless Americans from the potential danger of these contaminants.
“Although several types of PBDEs are being phased out in the United States, our exposure to the flame retardants is likely to continue for many years,” said the study’s principal investigator, Brenda Eskenazi, UC Berkeley professor of epidemiology and of maternal and child health at the School of Public Health. “PBDEs are present in many consumer products, and we know they leach out into our homes. In our research, we have found that low-income children in California are exposed to very high levels of PBDEs, and this has us concerned about the next generation of Californians.”
What’s more, the scientists pointed out in the press statement that there’s reason to be concerned about additional chemical contaminants in the immediate future. True, PBDEs are being phased out from consumer products — but they are being replaced with other potentially toxic compounds. “We know even less about the newer flame retardant chemicals that are coming out,” said Dr. Harley. “We just don’t have the human studies yet to show that they are safe.”
January 27, 2010
By Shari Roan
December 26, 2009
By Chris Jacob
That failed terrorist attack yesterday might make international flights a whole lot less enjoyable. Passengers are reporting that new restrictions are in place, and their severity varies flight-to-flight. Among the reports, a rumor: No electronics.
Again, these are isolated incidents, and there’s still no official word from TSA. But in certain instances, some passengers are reporting that electronics usage on inbound U.S. flights is restricted. We’ll let you know if an official announcement comes.
The New York Times is reporting that no one will be able to move from their seats during the last hour of flight. That means no bathroom breaks, no accessing carry-on luggage, nothing. When that plane starts descending, you’re planted.
Multiple sources, among them Xeni Jardin of Boing Boing, have also been told that no electronics are allowed on international flights. None. So you can’t even play video games to distract yourself from how badly you have to pee.
From what we can tell, this is largely restricted to inbound international flights. TSA hasn’t made any announcements yet either, so hopefully this is either a temporary measure, or the restrictions will be less severe once the official policy becomes clearer.
So much for using those free in-flight Wi-Fi codes we told you about. If you’re flying today, tell us what you hear.