Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Delevopments on the IPR Front

Customs and Border Protection, as you likely know, plays an important role in enforcing U.S. intellectual property rights at the border. CBP can seize merchandise that infringes a U.S. copyright or trademark and can enforce a U.S. International Trade Commission exclusion order for patents or other rights.

What you may not know, is that CBP can include intellectual property issues in audits of importers. So, in additional to having your classification, value, marking, and rate of duty ducks in a row, you also need to be certain that you have the right to import merchandise that bears a U.S. trademark or is covered by a U.S. copyright. You may not think this is a common occurrence but it is. Branded merchandise is almost always the subject of trademark protection. Granted, for CBP to engage in enforcement the mark must be recorded with Customs, but that is also very common. If you are importing goods bearing a trademark, check CBP's online IPR search and check whether the trademark is recorded. The same goes for copyrighted works such as software, movies, music, and art work. Copyright enforcement is less common because Customs only gets involved where the work is "pirated."

I'm thinking about this because CBP just published its Focused Assessment audit standards for intellectual property issues. That document is here. The document gives helpful advice regarding best practices and manager responsibilities for importers.

On a related front, rights holders often complain that it is hard to get Customs to act to protect their interests. In response, Customs has issued a document with the clever title How to get IPR Border Enforcement Assistance. The upshot is that CBP has set up a new e-mail address for contacts relating to IPR enforcement. That address is: The IPR BRANCH may also be reached by telephone at (202) 572-8710.

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