Senate bill seeks to block counterfeit goods entering US

A bipartisan bill that would extend the power of US customs to seize intellectual property-infringing goods has been introduced in the Senate.

The Counterfeit Goods Seizure Act of 2019 (S. 2987) would allow Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to seize imported merchandise that infringes a design patent – which protects the visual qualities of a manufactured item.

That could make it easier to block the imports of copycat products that mimic the look and feel of a IP-protected product, but don’t directly infringe on trademarks, trade dress or copyrights, for example because they use a brand name that is similar, but not identical to, a real one.

At the moment, CBP can only seize these products if the brand owner has filed a complaint that has resulted in an International Trade Commission (ITC) exclusion order, which can be hard and expensive to obtain.

S. 2987 has been introduced by Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC), Chris Coons (D-DE), Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and according to its sponsors will stem the flow of counterfeit goods and protect American interests.

“The inflow of counterfeit goods into the US is an issue that affects American consumers and businesses alike and results in the American economy losing billions of dollars every year,” said Senator Tillis.

“I am proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation to give [CBP] the authority to seize merchandise that infringes on design patents.”

The move has been lauded by the International Trademark Association (INTA), which said that the sale of counterfeit goods remains a significant issue that “plagues oblivious consumers and brand owners in all industries”.

The organisation cites 2013 data suggesting that the value of international and domestic trade in counterfeit and pirated goods was $1.13trn in 2013, and could swell to $1.9-$2.81trn in 2022.

That sentiment was echoed by the Intellectual Property Owners Association (IPO) and the American Intellectual Property Law Association (AIPLA), which said the current trademark and copyright recordation system “could be readily extended to permit the recordation of design patents and provide CBP field officers with instantaneous access to information about each protected right.”

IPO and AIPLA also noted that other countries – including the EU, Japan, South Korea, China, India, Mexico, Turkey, Argentina, South Africa, Switzerland, and Panama – already have provisions in place to allow enforcement of design patent rights by customs.

The bill has been referred for consideration to the US Senate Finance Committee.

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