For years, the semiconductor industry coped with counterfeiting by burying its head in the sand. The word was rarely uttered in the boardroom or to suppliers, and never within earshot of a customer. It was the industry's version of "Don't ask, don't tell."
Times have changed. From the water cooler to the corner office, the topic is no longer taboo.
Currently, the channel is awash in an alphabet soup of industry associations-SIA, NEDA, IDEA and ERAI, to name a few-all trying to fight counterfeiters. In fact, I'm a board member of IDEA, the Independent Distributors of Electronics Association. But for the most part, these associations operate independently of one another. I believe it would make more sense for us to come together to solve the problem.
Everyone in the channel shares the blame for counterfeiting: chip makers whose products sometimes slip out the "backdoor"; franchised distributors that don't, or can't, share lot code information when product isn't purchased from them; customers who take the bait when unqualified vendors dangle offers that are too good to be true; and open-market suppliers with poorly executed or nonexistent quality procedures.
So, rather than point fingers, we need a unified front that addresses the counterfeit problem head-on. Here is a simple plan of action that we as an industry should consider as we work toward a solution:
1. Unite. Create a working group with representation from all interested industry associations under the umbrella of a respected third-party organization. For example, we could unite under the banner of the International AntiCounterfeiting Coalition to share resources. The individual trade associations would continue to operate independently; they would simply allocate their anti-counterfeiting resources to the new entity.
2. Share. Allow for the free flow of related information through all links in the supply chain. Take information already available from each of the individual groups and combine it into one easily accessible database. This should include known problem parts, known problem sources, and date and lot code information. Independent distributors are on the front line of the issue and can provide information to the entire channel on counterfeit product that has surfaced and where it came from.
3. Empower. End users, allow your trusted open-market distributors to break seals on packaging in order to verify product authenticity. If counterfeiters can duplicate a complex electrical circuit, they can easily counterfeit a label.
In addition, use only those independent distributors that have proven quality policies and will guarantee the quality of the product they are supplying with a "no-counterfeit guarantee" that includes extensive liability coverage.
4. Stay alert. If something is too good to be true-for example, if parts you and everyone else have been looking for over a period of weeks suddenly materialize-recognize that there is more than a slight possibility that there could be a problem. The prudent course is to conduct sufficient testing to ensure the component is authentic.
Without a unified approach, the counterfeiting problem will only grow in both size and complexity. It's time to come together to develop a solution.
John Irving can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.fusiontrade.com. Fusion is an independent distributor of electronic components.
John Irving, executive vice president, corporate sales and marketing, Fusion