George Mason University: TraCCC and Amazon team up for policy hackathon to stop counterfeiters

George Mason University’s Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center (TraCCC) and Amazon have joined forces to help combat counterfeiting and its criminal supply chain networks.

The method? Co-hosting the 2022 Bring Down Counterfeiting Public Policy Hackathon, a first-of-its-kind event, administered by Blue Clarity, that will challenge teams from U.S. academic institutions, companies and other affiliations to develop innovative ideas to combat these global challenges.

Registration opened August 5 ahead of an August 27 virtual kickoff event. An in-person final judging will be on November 5, when teams will compete for more than $20,000 in prizes. Go to expeditionhacks.com/counterfeiting for details and to register.

“Our goal is to bring together U.S. policy makers, domain experts, and academic institutions to raise awareness of the threats and generate powerful new ideas to stop this criminal activity,” said TraCCC Director Louise Shelley, a University Professor in the Schar School. “We are excited to have Amazon as a partner in this initial event and we appreciate their leadership in fostering a culture of open cooperation and innovation. The results from this hackathon will also be used to inform our ongoing research on counterfeit and other criminal supply chain networks.”

As ideas are developed, teams will be able to engage real-time with a diverse group of mentors from across the public and private sectors, including Edward Huang, a member of TraCCC and an associate professor in Mason’s College of Engineering and Computing.

“Mason is taking on these global challenges that we must confront as humanity,” Mason alum Paul Misener, Amazon’s vice president of global innovation policy and communications, said in April at the groundbreaking for the Fuse building at Mason Square in Arlington.

“The fact is, Mason is not just a pipeline for tech talent,” Shelley said. “We have a unique perspective that Amazon sought out, which is to place tech in context to inform policy. This makes Mason different from other tech programs, and is what brought Amazon to us in the first place.”

The hackathon continues and expands Mason’s partnership with Amazon.

The Fuse building is part of a large-scale expansion at Mason Square. Scheduled to open in 2025, it will be a 345,000-square-foot facility that will serve as a technological hub in the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, connecting students, faculty, industry, and government.

The campus, which is adjacent to Amazon’s new headquarters, is part of Mason’s commitment to expanding its programs in computer science, computer engineering, information technology and other closely related fields to rapidly increase the number of highly skilled graduates for Amazon and other regional employers.

Mason is also collaborating with Amazon and the Maryland Chamber Foundation in a program that will provide current and potential computer science teachers in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. with an opportunity to shadow Amazon experts and take a companion three-credit, graduate-level class at Mason.

“Mason’s partnership with Amazon to curate real-world experiential learning initiatives like the TraCCC hackathon positions Mason students as some of the best-trained, work-ready talent pipelines in the nation,” said Liza Wilson Durant, Mason’s associate provost for strategic initiatives and community engagement. “This event not only supports our students’ professional development, but will lead to impactful solutions to a challenging real-world threat.”

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimates that pirated and counterfeit products make up 2.5% (roughly $464 billion) a year in world trade. Counterfeiters deprive brand owners of the value of their intellectual property and compete unfairly with honest entrepreneurs. The supply chains of counterfeiters may also intersect with transnational networks in a wide range of illicit behavior, including illegal trade in narcotics, arms, people, and wildlife.

“Amazon is known for its customer obsession, and a critical part of that is earning and maintaining our customers’ trust,” said Mary Beth Westmoreland, vice president of brand protection at Amazon. “While we are proud of the progress we have made, we will not stop until we drive counterfeits to zero in our store, and we will continue to invest and innovate until we get there.”

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