Stop Counterfeits at the Border with a Customs Program

Cindy Yard | January 7, 2020

How do you to stop counterfeit goods from entering the U.S. before they fall into the hands of unsuspecting consumers? IP owners should establish best practices and a supportive relationship with US Customs & Border Protection (CBP) so their goods get the attention they deserve at the port of entry.

Consider this: In 2018, US Customs officials seized over 33,000 shipments. The total MSRP of the authentic version of those seized goods was nearly $1.4 billion. So how you do protect your brand and prevent counterfeits from crossing the border?

First Steps

One of the first things a start-up company should consider when going to market with a new product is how to protect the brand, the name, and/or a symbol associated with their product. 

First, decide on and register trademarks with the US Patent and Trademark office. The USPTO defines a trademark or service mark as “any word, name, symbol, device, or any combination, used or intended to be used to identify and distinguish the goods/services of one seller or provider from those of others, and to indicate the source of the goods/services.”

IP owners are not required to federally register a trademark. However, registration affords presumed ownership of the mark. This diminishes the burden of proof when seeking legal protection. Trademark registration in the U.S. will also help in your foreign registrations and protect your mark globally once your business expands.

Once you have registered the trademark, record it with US CBP. Officers at each of the 317 U.S. ports have access to a recordation database that includes information about all recorded marks, including images. This assists in their efforts to prevent the importation of goods that infringe registered and recorded marks.

Though these are good first steps, a comprehensive Customs support program consists of several other components, including:

Point of Contact

Companies should designate a point of contact to handle incoming requests to make it easier for Customs to make contact. The window to respond to such requests is very short, so it’s important to review images of suspect shipments quickly. And it’s also important to provide a determination of infringement in a timely manner to foster good relations with Customs.

Training Materials and Product Guides

Maintaining updated training materials will keep CBP agents informed about the latest product security features. Agents are more likely to recognize a suspect shipment and contact you for support if they are educated on identifying counterfeits of your brand.

Registrations and Recordations

IP owners should record newly filed trademarks with CBP for increased protections. And maintaining records of expiration dates will ensure existing recordations do not lapse and renewal applications are submitted on time.

Organized Record Keeping

Finally, establish a process for receiving and managing seizure notifications and associated data. Keeping organized records of importer and exporter information will allow you to spot trends and identify repeat offenders.

Are you interested in building a strong relationship between your brand and CBP? Registering new trademarks? Building a new Customs program or revamping an existing one?  Contact us to learn how our 20+ years of experience can help. By handing over many day-to-day tasks, you can ensure your Customs program is a success while freeing up your time to focus on more strategic priorities.

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Cindy Yard

Cindy has been a member of IP Services Brand Protection team since 2011, first as a forensic analyst and currently as the Director of Brand Protection. Armed with a degree in Business Administration from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a work history in retail and the promotional products industry, she never dreamed she’d be fighting the good fight against counterfeiters and piracy for a living.