U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) takes Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) enforcement very seriously, in fact, its a priority.  Shipments not destined for the U.S., that are merely in transit (for example from China for a brief stop in Miami to the ultimate destination in Latin America), are no exception.  The fact that CBP enforces IPR rights for in transit merchandise surprises many — but lets face it, if CBP is to protect IPR rights, why should it stop at products solely destined for the U.S.?  If you took the time to register your trademark or copyright with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and then took the extra step to record that trademark or copyright with CBP, wouldn’t you want CBP to stop infringers, even if they are just passing through for a brief moment?  Check to see if a company has taken that extra step to record their IPR here.

CBP publishes IPR statistics yearly.  The statistics for 2009 were recently published in December of 2009.  There were 14,841 seizures from IPR violations.  Of no surprise, China was the top trading partner for IPR seizures in FY 2009 with a domestic value of $204.7 million in counterfeit merchandise, accounting for 79% of the total value seized.  Footwear was the top commodity seized in FY 2009 with a domestic value of
$99.7 million, which accounted for 38% of the entire value of infringing goods.  Consumer electronics was a distant second at $31.7 million, accounting for 12% of the seizure pie.   Footwear and consumer electronics combined make up half of the total seizures. 

What’s important to note is this:

  1. Even if your merchandise is in transit, if it doesn’t comply with U.S. regulations, it may still be seized and forfeited to the U.S. government.
  2. Seek an experienced attorney to respond to your Seizure Notice (we can come up with creative solutions to get your merchandise back).
  3. On top of the seizure, you may also receive a penalty (for the MSRP of the goods as if they were genuine).  
  4. If you are doing business with a Chinese company (especially if dealing in footwear and/or consumer electronics) do your due diligence first.
  5. Create your pre-compliance plan.  Have your trademark license agreements handy and work with counsel to present the agreements to CBP in advance of importation.