Recent actions by a key US senator and the Justice Department indicate that consumer goods from China could face increased scrutiny in the near future and beyond. The efforts and associated investment of brand owners are being recognized, but the need to supplement private action with support from law enforcement should be viewed as a positive development.
Domestic prom and bridal dress industry under threat
US Senator Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) expressed concern that counterfeit prom and bridal dresses from China are creating problems in the US market, and asked that US officials take action. Specifically, Senator Menendez wrote to Lev Kubiak, director of the Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE) on October 3, 2014:
The domestic prom and bridal dress industry is increasingly under threat from Chinese dress manufacturers and websites that sell counterfeit goods directly to US consumers. American companies that invest in the design, marketing, and manufacturing, and distribution of prom and bridal dresses are losing sales to Chinese firms that flagrantly violate US law.
While Senator Menendez noted the importance and effectiveness of private policing and enforcement efforts, he made it clear that private industry cannot and should not shoulder the entire burden itself. “Although I am aware that the prom and bridal dress industry has pursued legal action and obtained domain name takedowns for infringing sites, the industry cannot be left to tackle this problem alone,” said Senator Menendez in his letter. “I therefore ask that the IPR Center focus its efforts on tackling the rampant proliferation of counterfeit goods in this industry.”
Two pled guilty for importing unsafe counterfeit toys
In related news which demonstrates how such an enforcement effort could look, two individuals pled guilty on August 27 in the US District Court for Eastern District of New York to importing over 100,000 counterfeit toys from China through a series of shell companies over an 8-year period. Aug. 27, 2014 press release.
The defendants imported toys from China to the United States from 2005 to 2013, then sold them at store locations primarily in the New York City area. Toys imported by the defendants were seized at least 33 times. Some of the toys which were seized bore copyright-infringing images and counterfeit trademarks, including Winnie the Pooh, Dora the Explorer, SpongeBob SquarePants, Betty Boop, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers, Spiderman, Tweety, Mickey Mouse, and Pokémon. Feb. 4, 2013 Indictment.
In an August 27, 2014 press release, the DOJ reported that certain of the seized toys had excessive lead and phthalate levels, small parts that presented risks of choking, aspiration or ingestion, and easily-accessible battery compartments.
For eight years, the defendants lined their pockets while putting at risk the health of our children by smuggling dangerous and copyright-infringing toys into the United States. Today’s guilty pleas signify the end of this dangerous pipeline from China. We will continue to be vigilant and prosecute those who would smuggle dangerous and unlawful items into our country and neighborhoods.
Aug. 27, 2014 press release.