Friday, March 11, 2016

Ruling of the Week 2016.9: Contact

Having already invoked Star Trek: First Contact today, I will now reference Contact.

Arecibo, Puerto Rico is probably most famous for being the location of the Arecibo radio telescope observatory. It was there that the fictional astronomer from Carl Sagan's book, played by Jodie Foster in the movie, successfully decoded a message from intelligent aliens. The book is better than the movie, but both are worthwhile.

Recently, Arecibo became home to a 360-foot monument to the European discovery of the New World. Note that 300 feet is roughly the size of the Statute of Liberty.

The customs issue in NY N272432 (Feb. 26, 2016) does not have to do with the statute. Instead, it has to do with tchotchkes sold as souvenirs in the gift shop near the monument. In particular coffee mugs that have the words "Puerto Rico" or "Arecibo, Puerto Rico" printed on them.

The question presented to Customs and Border Protection was how to properly mark these mugs with their country of origin. The mugs are made in China. As such, they are articles of foreign origin that must be marked with their country of origin in a manner that is conspicuous, permanent, and legible. 19 USC § 1304.

Typically, the origin label on a coffee mug could be placed on the bottom. That is reasonably conspicuous and easy enough for the consumer to find. But, there is a regulation (19 CFR § 134.46) that says that if there is a geographic indication on the item that is not the country or locality of origin, then the true origin label must be in close proximity and in comparable size. You can image that a large "Made in China" label near the "Puerto Rico" marking would be less than aesthetically ideal.

Recently, we discussed an exception to this rule that applies where the locality is part of the trademark for the item. It turns out that another exception applies.

Under § 134.47, the "close proximity" requirement does not apply if the locality is stated as part of a "souvenir marking." That is the case here. "Puerto Rico" is on the mug to make the mug a tourist's keepsake from the visit. Consequently, according to Customs and Border Protection, placing the origin marking "Made in China" on the bottom of the mug via an adhesive label is perfectly acceptable.

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