Ever have the misfortune of violating someone’s trademark? U.S. Customs is on guard to protect the intellectual property rights of U.S. companies, and for that we should be thankful. But what happens when you’ve made a simple mistake?
Unfortunately, Customs only sees in black and white, meaning it’s either a violation of someone’s rights or it isn’t and its left to you to plead your case to the Trademark owners Brand Protection Manager for cooperation and release of your goods.
I recently came across a story that involves what some may call an over-protective, perhaps overzealous Brand Protection Manager and a chain of errors by a well-meaning importer trying to keep up with a myriad of product labeling requirements.
A cautionary tale –
The importer was in the midst of a product label change due to the requirement of a California product warning, Proposition-65. Thinking it was a good idea, the importer utilized a sample label that not only included product information, barcodes and the California warning but also included UL, CE, and WEEE graphics. This sample was intended to be an illustration to the vendor on the proper way to create a product’s label. The Importer sent this new label to all of their vendors in China. As you can image, the Chinese vendor took the label change for gospel and dutifully printed and labeled the product’s shipping box with these newly minted product labels.
As luck would have it, Customs randomly selected the importer’s shipment and found the graphics on the product to be ‘confusingly similar’ to graphics Customs has on file for the trademark holder and thus reported the infraction… things progressively went downhill in a hurry.
In the end, products from three individual shipments were eventually seized by Customs. The trademark holder’s no-tolerance policy in this instance claimed an unintended victim. The Brand Protection Manager, unwavering, assured the importer that their policies were not intended to cause them harm, however their inaction and unwillingness to forgive the importer’s mistake eventually cost the importer over six-figures in product and potential sales.
Let this be a warning, I guess… to dot those i’s and cross those t’s.
Maple Creek’s expertise in Trade and Product compliance may have helped to avoid this costly situation, after all our mantra is to anticipate legal issues before they become legal issues. How can we help you?