In recent years, many national customs offices have established notification procedures to allow IP rights holders the ability to alert customs officials of their IP rights in order to assist them in their import inspection activities. Like Internet Service Provider takedown requests on the Internet (more information about these procedures), IP customs office notifications is a tool for IP rights holders to protect their IP rights abroad by reducing the global spread of infringing goods and content by preventing its cross-border transit—and in many cases, assisting in its destruction. However, to utilize such protection measures, an IP rights holder must ask themselves:
- Can you submit such a notification in a particular country?
- Does the country you wish to enforce your IP rights have an IP customs notification system?
- Does such a country’s national IP customs notification system include the type of IP you wish to protect?
- What are the particular foreign customs agency’s IP notification requirements?
Can you submit a IP customs notification? Generally, an IP rights holder can only submit an IP customs notification to a foreign customs office if their IP qualifies for protection in that foreign country. Determining if particular IP qualifies for protection in a country depends on the type of IP the rights holder wishes to protect and to what extent the rights holder has secured foreign legal protections. Here is how it breaks down:
Trademarks. If an IP rights holder wants to submit a foreign customs notification to protect a trademark or service mark in another country, they usually need to have registered that mark in the IP office of that specific country or through a centralized international registration mechanism like the Madrid Protocol (more information about the Madrid Protocol). This is because trademark protection is territorial, meaning that a trademark or service mark registration only grants its owner rights in the mark in the territory of the registering country. So for example, if a U.S. company registers its trademark in the U.S. for particular goods or services and wishes to protect that trademark against infringing imports into New Zealand, it must also register that mark through the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand or the Madrid Protocol in order to submit a trademark notification to the New Zealand Customs Service.
Of course there are some important exceptions to this territoriality requirement to keep in mind. The European Union maintains a community-wide trademark system (Community Trade Mark) allowing one community registration to qualify for customs notification registration in all EU member states (a list of EU member states is available here). The African Intellectual Property Organization (OAPI) also maintains a community trademark system where a single OAPI community mark registration is recognized in 16 African nations (a list of EU member states is available here).
Patents. Like trademarks, a patent rights holder must generally have a registered patent in the country to which they wish to register an IP customs notification. Unlike trademarks, however, there are no current community registration exceptions. As a result, patent rights holders must register their patents in the country to which they wish to register their IP customs notifications.
Trade Secrets: Generally, as trade secrets require that their owners keep the content of their secrets confidential in order to maintain its legal protections, any disclosure of such secrets to customs officials likely eliminates such secrets’ protections. Therefore, there does not appear to be any national customs IP notification systems that permit trade secret notification.
Copyright. Unlike trademarks and patents, a work qualifying for copyright protection in one country may qualify for copyright protection in other countries in order to allow foreign customs notification registration. However, depending on the country, foreign copyright authors may need to file a copyright registration in order to submit an IP customs notification. A work qualifies for international copyright protection under the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (Berne Convention) when it becomes attached. Attachment requires that the author of the work be a national of a Berne Convention country (Berne Convention countries), the author is a habitual resident of a Berne Convention country, that the work is first published in a Berne Convention country, or that the work is published in a Berne Convention country within 30 days after an initial publishing in a non-Berne Convention country. If a work is attached through any of these means, it is treated as if the work originated in each Berne Convention country, and is then subject to each Berne Convention country’s copyright protection requirements in order to qualify for copyright protection in that specific country.
If a work qualifies as an attached work under the Berne Convention and the IP rights holder wishes to register their protected work in a foreign Berne Convention country customs office, they will be able to file a customs registration without having authored the work in the foreign Berne Convention country. Yet, as mentioned above, countries differ on national copyright registration requirements for IP customs notifications. Australia, for example, does not require Australian copyright registration prior to submitting a customs notification application to the Australian Customs Service. However, several major markets, such as the U.S., China and India, require that copyrighted works be registered in their country prior to registering an IP customs notification.
Does the country you wish to enforce your IP rights have an IP customs notification system? Not all countries maintain IP customs notification processes. Some substantial and growing markets, such as Brazil, Canada and Chile, do not currently maintain IP custom notification systems. However, many major markets and transshipment countries maintain various types of IP customs notification systems including Argentina, Australia, China, European Union (EU), Hong Kong, India, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, United States and Vietnam, among others.
Does such a country’s national IP customs notification system include the type of IP you wish to protect? Several countries only maintain IP notification systems for particular types of IP. For example, The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) only accepts copyright and trademark notifications, not patent notifications (the CBP only examines imports for patent infringement based on a Section 337 exclusion order from the U.S. International Trade Commission (more information available here)). In contrast, several other countries monitor and detain imports for possible patent and geographical indication infringement. India’s Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC) in particular monitors imports for copyright, geographical indication, patent and trademark infringement.
What are the particular foreign customs agency’s IP notification requirements? Once an IP rights holder verifies that their IP qualifies for legal protections in the foreign country they wish to submit an IP customs notification, and that the type of IP they wish to notify customs about can be registered, the IP rights holder’s customs notification must comply with the foreign customs office’s own notification requirements.
Below are the IP customs notification submission requirements for some of the worlds’ major markets.
Types of IP Covered
|United States||19 C.F.R. 133.1 et seq.
||Copyright and Trademark||Instructions: Copyright and trademark notification (known as e-Recordation) requires:
-The trademark or copyright’s U.S. registration number
-The name, address and citizenship of the IP rights owner
-The place(s) of manufacture of goods bearing the trademark or copyright
-The name and address of individuals authorized to use the trademark or copyright
-The identity of a parent company or subsidiary authorized to use the trademark or copyright (if any)
Fees: US $190.00 per copyright and trademark (per class of goods and services).
Effective Duration of Notification: 20 years.
|e-Recordation Notification Portal|
||Copyright Act 1968, Subsection 135(2)||Copyright and Trademark||General Notes: Australian IP customs notifications are known as Notices of Objection.To register a copyright or trademark notice with Australian Customs Service, an IP rights holder must submit: (1) a notice of objection form; and (2) a deed of undertaking. Both types of forms as well as further instructions are located in the right column.
Duration of Notification: Four years.
|China||Decree of the General Administration of Customs, No. 183||Copyright, Patent and Trademark||Requirements: To file a IP customs notification with the General Administration of Customs (GAC), an application must include:
-a copy of the IP rights holder’s business registration certificate and a Chinese translation
-a copy of the Chinese registration certificate for the copyright, patent or trademark
-Proof of Power of Attorney (if registered by an agent)
-Registration fee (see below)
-Licensing agreements (if any)
-Pictures of the relevant goods and their packaging
Submission: Forms can be filled online or by mail.
Fees:Approximately US $130.00 (800 RMB).
|GAC Online Notification Form (In Chinese)|
|European Union||Council Regulation (EC) No 1383/2003, Article 5.5||Copyright, Geographical Indication, Patent and Trademark||The EU refers to IP customs notifications as Applications For Action. Applications require: (1) a completed application form; and (2) a completed Article 6 Declaration. Both forms are located to the right.
Note: Individual EU member states may maintain their own IP customs notification systems (a link to individual EU member state customs agencies is available here).
|Community Application For Action|
|India||Notification no. 47/2007 – Customs (n.t.)||Copyright, Geographical Indication, Patent and Trademark||Registration: The CBEC requires that copyrighted works be registered with Indian Copyright Office, and geographical indications, patents and trademarks with the Office of the Controller General of Patents, Designs & Trade Marks prior to submitting a CBEC customs notification.
Ports of Entry: The CBEC also requires that notifications be submitted to particular ports of entry.
Duration of Notification: Minimum period of one (1) year.
|Online Notification Submission Portal|
**Note**: The above requirements are meant for comparative educational purposes only. IP rights holders should consult with national customs agencies or qualified attorneys in the jurisdictions they wish to enforce their rights to confirm these and other IP customs notification requirements.
Further Steps. Once an IP rights holder’s IP is registered with a foreign customs office, the foreign customs office will generally notify the rights holder or their representative of any infringing inbound shipments and may detain and potentially destroy infringing imports. However, such detentions may include legal proceedings, as well as additional country-specific enforcement procedures. IP rights holders should obtain qualified local counsel to assist with these enforcement activities.
The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) released an Out-of-Cycle Review of Notorious Markets on Thursday, December 13, 2012, which identified physical and online markets reported by U.S. businesses and industry organizations as being engaged in substantial intellectual property piracy and counterfeiting. The Review included particular social media, multi-platform, deeplinking, cyberlocker, business-to-business, business-to-consumer, bit torrent indexing, bit torrent tracking, and pay-per-download websites. Specific physical markets in Argentina, China, Colombia, Ecuador, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Pakistan, Paraguay, Thailand, and Ukraine were also deemed notorious.
Other notable changes in the Review included the removal of Chinese websites Taobao and Sogou as notorious markets, for their efforts to work with rights-holders to identify infringing content on their websites.
A copy of the Review is available here.
Apple’s recent Mexican trademark legal troubles highlight some important issues and strategies businesses and exporters should be aware of when exporting.
On November 2, 2012, a Mexican Appeals Court upheld an injunction against Apple’s use of the term IPHONE in selling its popular iPhone devices based on Apple’s similar goods and service offerings and the term’s phonetic similarity to the registered trademark IFONE, held by Mexican telecommunication service provider iFone. iFone registered its mark in 2003 for telecommunication services (International Class (IC) 38), four years prior to Apple’s first iPhone launch in 2007. That year, Apple registered IPHONE as a mark in Mexico for electronic devices (IC Classes 9 and 28).
To obtain legal protection for IPHONE in IC Class 38, Apple filed a trademark cancellation proceeding against iFone’s mark in 2009, claiming that iFone’s mark was confusingly similar to IPHONE among consumers. iFone countersued, asserting that Apple’s use of IPHONE infringed its mark, and sought damages and an injunction. To Apple’s dismay, iFone successfully proved in the Mexican Lower Court that Apple’s mark was confusingly similar to its prior registered mark and that Apple’s use of IPHONE did infringe on its mark, entitling iFone to an injunction and damages.
Although Apple and iFone’s case is not concluded, Apple may be legally prohibited from using the term IPHONE in selling or promoting its iPhone devices in Mexico. Equally as damaging, iFone may be entitled as a prior mark registrant to potentially recover up to 40% of Apple’s Mexican profits from its sales of the iPhone using the IPHONE mark, both current and retroactively. Statistics on Apple’s Mexican iPhone sales are unavailable, yet it is reported that Apple’s iPhone sales in the Americas are in the billions. To resolve its legal issues with iFone and preserve the Mexican market for iPhones, commentators have mentioned that Apple may be required to enter into a costly settlement with iFone. So what’s the takeaway from this story?
Do Your Homework Before Entering a Foreign Market: A company the size of Apple may not need to examine whether their goods and services offerings conflict with existing foreign trademarks, but doing so is an essential step for any business wishing to protect its IP and prevent legal complications abroad. A simple Mexican trademark search and examination of iFone’s promotional activities would have revealed that they had a prior registered Mexican mark that was confusingly similar to IPHONE and that they were using it in commerce. Apple may have conducted this research and disregarded it, yet doing so is a relatively inexpensive and strategic measure to identify foreign market challenges and safeguard against future legal problems.
Develop a Country-Specific IP Protection Strategy: Apple may have been able to expand legal protections for IPHONE while avoiding a legal proceeding if they had pursued an IP protection strategy with greater consideration of Mexican trademark law. Commentators have espoused that Apple likely adopted a trademark protection strategy in Mexico similar to aggressive strategies seen in the U.S. by registering IPHONE in available IC classes and initiating trademark cancellation proceedings against prior registrants in unavailable IC classes, like iFone’s IC Class 38 mark, to expand their brand’s legal protection.
If Apple had pursued a famous mark declaration, pursuant to Mexican trademark law, they could have obtained legal protection for IPHONE in IC Class 38 while averting a prolonged trial. Mexico’s Industrial Property Law permits famous marks (marks who have achieved a high degree of consumer recognition) to obtain enhanced legal protections through obtaining a declaration from the Mexican Institute of Industrial Property (IMPI). If declared, the petitioner is granted registration in the famous mark that can protect it against any subsequently registered confusingly similar marks in any IC class simply by requesting an acknowledgment from IMPI of the mark’s status and providing accompanying evidence. Obtaining a declaration would have given Apple legal protections in IPHONE in all IC Classes without having to initiate a legal proceeding. Although IMPI has only declared a handful of marks to be famous, the iPhone’s global recognition may have likely qualified IPHONE for Mexican famous mark protection. While its possible that Apple was aware of Mexico’s famous mark doctrine and chose against it, developing IP protection strategies based on local laws can provide businesses greater choices in obtaining protection for their marks abroad.
Engage Foreign Opposing Parties Before Initiating Legal Action: If Apple had reached out to iFone, it may have been able to enter into an agreement allowing Apple to obtain legal rights in IPHONE for IC class 38 without resulting to legal proceedings. The circumstances of this case show this to be especially true. iFone’s mark is classified for the entire IC 38 class, a classification trait often seen in foreign trademark registrations. Such a broad classification makes a coexisting use agreement between Apple and iFone likely possible due to the disparity of both parties goods and services within the IC 38 class as iFone is a telecommunication service provider, while Apple is a seller of telecommunication devices, the iPhone. A coexisting use agreement would have given Apple sufficient ability to obtain Mexican legal protections in IC Class 38 for IPHONE, while saving three years worth of costly legal fees, and having to pay potential damages.
Few businesses will ever reach Apple’s size or recognition, yet all businesses can adopt these mentioned measures to prevent legal complications when entering and operating in foreign markets.