Protecting Your Brand: Five Cost-Effective Customs & Border Protection Tools to Stop Counterfeit Goods at the Border

With the ever-evolving world of brand protection, it may be easy to overlook some of the strongest tools available for protecting a brand. We are often drawn to the latest software or technology to stop counterfeits from making their way into the US. However, these may be part of a broader strategy that includes the tools Customs & Border Protection (CBP) makes available. If you are protecting a brand and have a tight budget, please take a look at some lower cost opportunities.

  1. Recordation
    Fundamental to any effort is the registration of your trademarks with PTO. Once you are registered, your brand protection journey has only just begun. Take a look on iprs.cbp.gov to determine if you have any recorded trademarks (or copyrights). If you do not, begin the CBP e-recordation process immediately. For a small fee ($190 per mark, per class), you can record you mark with CBP. This affords additional protection at the border and violative goods stand a better chance of detention and eventual seizure.
  2. Product Guides
    Recordation alone is not enough. Be prepared to develop training materials that CBP Officers and Import Specialists may use to become aware of your product and learn some quick ID tips that can be applied in the field. Training materials need to contain the trademarks and recordations along with contact information and key details on your products. The guides may be provided to CBP for online distribution or directly to personnel during live training events.
  3. Training
    To get your brand to remain visible and in the minds of CBP personnel throughout US ports, it is important to conduct training whether virtual or live. While the current pandemic has paused much of the in-person training, there are virtual sessions available directly with CBP or through organizations like the IACC (International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition). Training is a way to keep CBP updated and aware of brand developments. In the right circumstances, it also provides a chance to make one-on-one connections and to learn and understand what is happening day to day at the port level.
  4. Seizures
    Now that you have created a guide and trained, what happens next? You may begin to receive inquiries from the ports requesting assistance in determining if particular imported goods are indeed counterfeit during the detention stage. CBP may provide you with images and some basic information when they reach out to you during the detention stage. Please answer these inquiries as quickly as possible; within 24 hours. In order to perfect the seizure, they often rely on brand representatives to point out three key inconsistencies in the images provided. Your answers will assist them in their determination. It is CBP that makes the ultimate decision as to the violative nature of the goods at issue.
  5. Notice Letters
    If all goes well and your assistance has allowed CBP to determine it will seize the goods, a few days to several months later, you will receive a seizure notice electronically or in the mail which lays out significantly more information than you were provided at the detention stage. What you do with the details in the letter is a function of personnel and budget. Having importer and recipient information along with quantity may allow you to locate large sources or recipients of goods for possible criminal or civil action. You may wish to go a step further and send cease and desist letters to all importers to put them on notice. In all cases you should maintain the key information in a data base.

Working to thwart the importation and sale of counterfeit goods is never an easy task.  These steps provide ways to work with CBP to support their efforts and improve your success at brand protection. Take advantage of recordation and training as affordable and proven ways to take your enforcement budget further.

For questions about this process, email Angelo E.P. Mazza at aepmazza@gibney.com.

IP Partner Angelo Mazza Participates in IACC Enforcement Training for US Customs and Border Protection

Gibney IP Partner Angelo Mazza recently participated on behalf of several clients in the International Anticounterfeiting Coalition (IACC) sponsored virtual training for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) personnel at the Port of Newark.  The training bought together over 40 brands and 100 CBP personnel from Newark and around the country. CBP Officers, Import Specialists and FP&F personnel had the ability to watch presentations by brands based on type of commodity and set to run at specific times during the 3-day event.

Angelo has been involved in training programs for law enforcement at all levels for several decades. Not only is he a participant, but he is also a volunteer at the IACC, who coordinates the trainings, works on scheduling and has developed materials to allow better enforcement of IP laws. Over the years, Angelo has trained over 70,000 law enforcement personnel throughout the United States. Recognizing the importance of education as a way to develop enforcement skills, he has lectured on IP issues and developed the original IACC Training CD and then led the shift to an online and app based training tools.

Angelo Mazza assists clients with their online and offline enforcement needs and developing strategies that take a calibrated approach rather than relying one size fits all strategy.  At the core of the strategy is providing law enforcement with the necessary educational tools.

For more information about the IACC’s training programs, visit iacc.org. The next virtual IP training for CBP is scheduled for late September. For information about developing a training program or best practices in IP enforcement, please contact Angelo Mazza.

Angelo Mazza to Speak at IACC Panel on Brand Protection Basics

Intellectual Property Partner Angelo E.P. Mazza will speak at the International Anticounterfeiting Coalition (IACC) webinar on August 19, 2021 from 1:00pm – 2:00pm ET. The program is titled “Brand Protection Basics – Practical Tips for Protecting Your Rights at the U.S. Border.”

About the Program

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is often described as the first line of defense against counterfeits in the U.S. With approximately 800 million shipments valued at over $2.4 trillion entering the U.S. market through over 300 ports each year, CBP faces the monumental task of identifying and interdicting illicit goods and keeping them out of the hands of American consumers, while ensuring the efficient flow of legitimate trade. This informative program will provide an opportunity to hear first-hand from brand representatives who will share practical tips and advice drawn from years of experience partnering with CBP.

Topics include:
• IP recordation;
• Best practices for training;
• What to expect in interacting with your government counterparts; and
• How you can leverage government resources to make your own efforts more cost-effective and budget-friendly.

This hour-long session will equip you with tools and guidance to effectively partner with CBP to protect your brand at the border.

Other speakers include Mandy McCarthy, Director / Infringement Administrator at The Lumistella Company. The panel will be moderated by Travis Johnson, Vice President – Legislative Affairs, Sr. Counsel, IACC.

Learn more and register on the IACC website.

Starting a Business in the US: Top Five Issues to Consider When Obtaining a US Copyright

As a foreign entrepreneur starting or expanding your business in the U.S., even if you are not selling literary or artistic items, you may be able to take advantage of copyright protection for advertising and promotional materials, operating manuals and packaging for your product. It is important to remember that there is no universal, international copyright that can protect your intellectual property globally. Protections against unauthorized use are unique to each particular country. These tips will help you in considering obtaining a US copyright.

Benefits of a Copyright
The  Berne Convention protects creators such as authors, musicians, poets, painters etc. with the means to control how their works are used, by whom, and on what terms. If your home coun­try is a member of the Berne Convention, no formalities are required to preserve U.S. copyrights in items created after March 1989. Certain formalities (such as a copyright notice) provide added benefits. As a non-U.S. copyright owner, you are not required to register your copyright to sue for infringement. However, if you later form a U.S. subsidiary which owns copyrightable material, registration with the U.S. Copyright Office will be necessary before your subsidiary can sue an infringer. The scope of U.S. copyright protection is driven by the date of first publication of a work. For works first published outside the U.S., the author’s nationality, place of first publication and the impact of copyright treaties must also be considered.

What Can be Protected by a Copyright?
According to the U.S. Copyright Office, any original work that is created is protected by the copyright law. The law applies to authored work that is in a material form, whether it is published or unpublished. Types of work include:

  • Literary works
  • Musical works
  • Books
  • Articles
  • Pictures
  • Graphs
  • Charts
  • Website content
  • Computer software

Top Five Issues to Consider When Obtaining Your Copyright
Issues to consider when obtaining a current US copyright:

  1. Copyright protection begins automatically upon creation of the work in tangible form and continues for 70 years after the death of the author or, for works created on behalf of an organization, 95 years after publication or 120 years after creation
  2. To be protected, a work must be original and show at least a minimal level of creativity;  protection is not available for ideas, facts and processes, but is available for the expression of ideas, facts and processes
  3. Damages for copyright infringement are the copyright owner’s actual damages plus any additional profits of the infringer attributable to the infringement, or “statutory damages” (an amount set by the court within specific monetary guidelines)
  4. To protect authors and their families, many transfers of copyrighted works can be rescinded after a set period of time, despite contrary language in the transfer document
  5. The purchase of an original work does not by itself convey ownership of the copyright in that work

The Get Started Blog highlights legal issues for emerging businesses looking to establish or expand in the US.

Counterfeit Covid-19 Vaccines: Impacting Public Health and Safety

The other shoe has dropped! At least it has in the world of counterfeit pharmaceuticals. Since early in the pandemic, the US has faced a significant and still ongoing wave of counterfeit PPE entering the country from abroad. A recent Wall Street Journal article confirms what had been feared for months; a rise in the availability of counterfeit Covid-19 vaccines.  Albeit the counterfeit doses were found in Mexico and Poland, it does not portend well for the efforts to reign in the pandemic around the world.

To understand the situation, we must look at a fundamental truth when it comes to counterfeits. It is one that has been repeated for years by the brand owner community; counterfeiters are not modern-day Robin Hoods. They line their own pockets with no regard whatsoever for public health and safety. This sad fact remains true now more than ever.

Let’s look at the fundamentals of the equation, counterfeiters trade upon the success of trusted brands regardless of commodity or category.  Their sole purpose is to monetize that success and the public’s desire or need to their own profit. In this instance, the public worldwide is seeking vaccinations from pharmaceutical brands which have held clinical trials and vetted the product through national safety agencies. In order to slow or stop the pandemic, the detrimental impact on healthcare systems and subsequent high mortality rates, vaccines have to be trusted and effective. Unfortunately, the counterfeiters have thus far met the need for vaccines with vials full of anti-wrinkle solution or distilled water.

The counterfeit vaccines both give the public a false sense of security when administered and undermine public trust in the overall vaccination process.  The combined efforts of brand protection teams and law enforcement led to the seizure of the counterfeit products, however not before some doses were distributed in Mexico.  Obviously, it is important that both law enforcement and the pharmaceutical companies continue to monitor the situation on various platforms and throughout the nether world of counterfeiting. The seriousness of the situation has not escaped anyone as this cooperation has become paramount to avoid mass vaccinations utilizing ineffective and possibly dangerous counterfeit vaccines.

We too have a role to play to keep the counterfeit vaccines from being sold and distributed anywhere in the US. If you come across a solicitation or offer for sale of vaccine, report it immediately to law enforcement. In the US, the National IPR Center is leading the fight on Covid-19 related fraud and continues its pro-active enforcement efforts. If you see vaccine available outside the normal channels, report it. If you come across vaccine that appears to be stored improperly or outside standard storage methods, do not be afraid to report it. World governments are racing to provide the vaccine at no cost to their citizens; someone offering vaccines at a $1,000.00 per dose is more interested in their own gain rather than the health and safety of entire populations.  Never underestimate the callousness of counterfeiters to trade upon fear and misery. Our future depends on a new, better informed understanding of the implications of counterfeiting on us and the world.

 

INFORM Consumers Act Introduced to Target Online Counterfeiters

The INFORM (Integrity, Notification, and Fairness in Online Retail Marketplaces) Consumers Act was introduced on the Senate floor on March 23, 2021.

This bill would require greater accountability and transparency from the e-commerce marketplaces that act as intermediaries between buyers and sellers.

The legislation requires online marketplaces to disclose to consumers basic information about high-volume third-party sellers, including the seller’s name and address, email address, telephone number. Violators would be subject to civil penalties.

High-volume third-party sellers are defined in the Act as vendors who have made at least 200 sales totaling at least $5,000 over a 1-year period.

In addition, the proposed legislation requires online marketplaces to provide customers with a hotline to report spurious activity i.e.: the sale of counterfeit, stolen or otherwise dangerous merchandise.

The Federal Trade Commission is charged with implementing the requirements of the legislation.

The Act is supported by the brand-owner community and viewed as a positive step in the fight against counterfeiting.

What’s On the Horizon for Brand Owners

The INFORM Act is the latest in a series of efforts to combat online counterfeiting. Bipartisan bills have been introduced in both the House and the Senate. As we previously reported, the SHOP SAFE Act of 2020 also incentivizes e-commerce platforms to adopt best practices to reduce the presence of counterfeit products on their sites. E-commerce sites that fail to adhere to the steps would be held liable.

As more brands increasingly transition from traditional brick and mortar to online retail, we will continue to see an increase in the sale of counterfeits goods online. Combating counterfeit sales is timely and costly for brand owners. While e-commerce platforms have started to implement policies to manage counterfeit sales, contributory liability puts the burden of responsibility on the both the counterfeit seller and the platform. These practices will begin to create incentives for online retailers to be more diligent and proactive.

Gibney will continue to monitor developments on this legislation. For questions, email info@gibney.com.

What Will Post Pandemic IP Enforcement Look Like?

As we are on the cusp of gaining some control over the pandemic and regaining a focus on the new normal, it seems to be an opportune time to think about what the post-pandemic world of IP enforcement will look like. While admittedly focusing only on the world of counterfeiters, this brief overview offers some food for thought into other aspects of intellectual property matters.

Unfortunately, we can all agree that the counterfeiters were out of the gate immediately when it came to taking advantage of the pandemic. Not only did they have their trade routes established, they were able to pivot into new areas of ‘expertise’ before legitimate manufacturers could ramp up production. The scope of the counterfeiters abilities are still being seen today with almost daily seizures of bogus PPE at the border by CBP. Add to those factors the cuts in enforcement budgets and staffing to create the perfect storm.

Now brand enforcement personnel have to pick up the pieces and address new issues and developing problems. The profound, and some say permanent, change to online shopping is only part of what needs to be addressed. Let’s take a brief look at some of the issues.

Data is king. But the key remains knowing what to hone in on and harnessing it to address the counterfeiting issues. Something as simple as tracking, and possibly taking action on, Customs seizures offer a low cost way to address bulk importations. Maintaining databases and availing oneself of information is a way to spot trends and develop ways to address them. Talk to other brands about ways to implement strategies using readily available data. Everyone does it differently and it pays to be open to new ideas. There are a lot of metrics available; be judicious in selecting and using them.

The pandemic had an adverse economic impact on many brands. Income went down and, in turn, enforcement budgets were cut or whole brand protection departments eliminated. It will take time to reach a point where enforcement staffing is commensurate with pre-2020 levels. This then raises the question of how best to address emerging online threats. Do you make do and cover what you can with limited personnel? Do you look at bringing in outside vendors to provide previous in-house functions even if only for a limited time? With brand protection often viewed as an expense that fails to add to the bottom line, the trick is to utilize limited resources in the most effective way possible.

How do you address the brick and mortar aspects of the trade in counterfeit goods? If you ignore it, it will continue to flourish. Enforcement has to be seen as a 360 degree effort of multiple types of enforcement that are in a constant state of re-calibration. How do you justify allocating resources and to what extent given online issues? It is not an easy call, but one way may be to make better use of resources for training and engaging law enforcement so they may look at the most egregious sellers and enter into investigations where costs may be shared among brands. The adaptation to the use of technology used on LiveStorm or Webex and others is a way to take training programs where they have not gone before. Certainly it is hard to replicate the connection made at in person trainings, however, remote trainings allow knowledge to be shared in a low cost and effective manner for the time being.

It goes without saying that social media has become a double-edged sword. It is a way for a brand to promote itself and its values across multiple platforms to a full range of current and potential customers. However, sometimes influencers do run amok as evidenced recently on platforms where the influencers suggested buys were actually disguised counterfeit goods from which they profited. Sadly, counterfeiters have always been better at monetizing new technology/platforms faster than the developers. Here the challenge is to maintain vigilance, not just on well-known platforms, but also being on the look-out for any new platforms (and scams) that emerge to push the sale of counterfeits.

If the only constant is change, brand owners have to be ready to anticipate, adapt and aggressively address issues before they mutate into serious problems and become harder to eradicate. Enforcement in a post pandemic world has to be viewed as an opportunity to take a broad look at all enforcement efforts and further fine tune them based on experience, budgetary limits and a wary eye on the variables of the future.

Brian Brokate Recognized in the World Trademark Review 1000 for IP Enforcement and Litigation Work

Brian Brokate was recognized in the 2021 World Trademark Review 1000 for enforcement and litigation work. WTR noted that Brian is “an enforcement ace named alongside just 12 others in the WTR 1000’s US national anti-counterfeiting rankings.”

As head of Gibney’s Intellectual Property Group, Brian assists companies in investigation and enforcement procedures to combat trademark and copyright infringement. With a niche focus on anti-counterfeiting and anti-piracy, he handles all stages of civil anti-counterfeiting and infringement litigation as well as acting as support on behalf of clients for state and federal criminal actions.

About WTR 1000
Now in its eleventh year, the WTR 1000 shines a spotlight on the firms and individuals that are deemed outstanding in this critical area of practice. The WTR 1000 remains the only standalone publication to recommend individual practitioners and their firms exclusively in the trademark field, and identifies the leading players in over 80 key jurisdictions globally. Read More.

Brian Brokate and Angelo Mazza to Speak at Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement 2021 NY

IP Partners Brian W. Brokate and Angelo E.P. Mazza will speak at the Practising Law Institute’s Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement 2021 NY event on January 7, 2021.  Brian Brokate is also co-chair of the event. This will be the tenth year that Brian and Angelo have participated in this program.

Angelo will lead the first panel “Current Government IP Enforcement Programs.” Topics include:

  • HSI’s Covid-19 investigations
  • Operation Stolen Promise
  • Developing agency-wide strategies
  • Hurdles and successes of multi-agency teams
  • Ongoing efforts to curb imports and sales
  • Taking on charlatans and unproven cures
  • Made in the USA claims for Covid-19 related products
  • Covid scams facing consumers and businesses

Brian Brokate will speak alongside Cheryl Wang of David Yurman on the “Anticounterfeiting Update” panel. Topics include:

  • Direct liability: An overview of the groundbreaking decisions from the past year and practical guidance on how to build a strong case for statutory damages
  • Getting it right. Seizures and ex parte remedies: Recent trends and the checklist that should be followed when applying for a seizure order
  • Contributory liability and the ongoing battle against online printers: A discussion about the recent decision in Y.Y.G.M. SA v. Redbubble, Inc.
  • Recent legislation: What you need to know about the SHOP SAFE Act and other pending legislation
  • How enforcement has changed during the COVID-19 pandemic and the cost-effective strategies used by brands during these unprecedented times
  • Brian W. Brokate, Cheryl Wang

For more information on the program, visit the PLI website.

Year-End IP Legislation

Shortly before midnight on December 21, 2020, Congress passed a 1.4 trillion omnibus spending package in order to avoid a federal government shut down. Included in the 5,593 page legislation were significant alterations to the intellectual property landscape.

Trademarks: 2020 Trademark Modernization Act

The Presumption of Irreparable Harm.
A Lanham Act plaintiff seeking an injunction now has a rebuttable presumption of irreparable harm upon a finding of a violation or a likelihood of success on the merits, depending on what type of injunction is being sought. Prior to this amendment, brand owners were required to present evidence of irreparable harm which can be difficult at the preliminary injunction stage.

Fraudulent Trademarks. Through various amendments, the Act seeks to address fraudulent trademark registrations with updates to the examination process and ex parte proceedings. First, it allows for third parties to submit evidence during the examination of a mark regarding its registerability. Second, the Act also provides a new ground for cancellation and ex parte expungement where a mark has never been used in commerce on or in connection with some or all of the goods or services cited in the registration.

Copyright Law: The CASE Act

For copyright owners, Congress passed the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement (CASE) Act. This Act establishes a Copyright Claims Board within the Copyright Office. The Board will be staffed by “claims officers” that have the authority to adjudicate copyright infringement claims under $30,000.

Also included in Monday’s legislation was the Protecting Lawful Streaming Act. The Act would give the Department of Justice the authority to charge commercial, for-profit streaming services with felony copyright infringement. Prosecution under the Act includes fines and imprisonment up to 10 years if the infringement is found to be willful. The law does not apply to individuals as casual internet users.