Saturday, December 17, 2011
Bioreactor: Hair Band or Lab Equipment?
"Bioreactor" sounds like a good name for a heavy-metal band, or possibly for a post-apocalyptic video game. But, in reality, it is a machine in which living organisms, typically bacteria, perform some useful chemical function. For example, you might want to feed complex carbohydrates like barley to yeast and end up with beer. For industrial purposes, you might be feeding bacteria something and ending up with an antibiotic. Applikon Biotechnology, Inc. v. United States is a Court of International Trade case about the tariff classification of bioreactors. For reference, here is a page full of the plaintiff's products, all of which look like props from a sci-fi movie except for the green one, which looks like it comes from Kang and Kodos of the Simpsons.
The question here was whether Customs and Border Protection properly classified the bioreactors in 8419 as machinery, plant or laboratory equipment for the treatment of materials by a process involving a change of temperature. The plaintiff wanted the goods classified in 8479, which is the basket heading for machines and mechanical appliances having individual functions not specified or included elsewhere in Chapter 84. Customs' position was supported by the fact that the merchandise includes a temperature control mechanism and requires a heating blanket, which is not imported with the merchandise.
The decisive finding by the Court of International Trade was that the temperature control function is subsidiary to the overall operation of the bioreactors. Apparently, the temperature control feature is not always used and the bioreactor can function without the heating blanket. More to the point (at least in my mind), the heating function is not intended to change the temperature of the culture. Rather, it is intended to maintain the temperature. These are not ovens, they are incubators. Based on that, the Court found that 8419 is inapplicable.
This conclusion was consistent with HTSUS Chapter 84, Note 2(e) which excludes from Heading 8419 machinery in which the change of temperature is subsidiary. And that was about it.