Co-author Peter Dang, recent graduate of the University of Washington School of Law and admitted member of the Washington State bar.
Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but try telling that to Converse. Last month, Converse filed multiple lawsuits in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York against 31 alleged infringers including Sketchers, H&M and others, for importing and selling knockoffs of Converse’s iconic shoes, the Chuck Taylor. Converse claimed that such alleged infringers infringed the Chuck Taylor’s distinctive shoe designs (aka trade dress) (15 U.S.C. § 1114), diluted such trade dress’ distinctiveness (15 U.S.C. § 1125(c)), and used such trade dress in a manner that constituted unfair competition (15 U.S.C. § 1125(a)). The trade dress at issue in both cases consists of Chuck Taylor’s federally registered “midsole design” and “outsole design” (collectively, the “Designs”). The midsole design (Reg. No. 4,398,753 – see image above) refers specifically to the Chuck Taylor’s “toe bumper” and “toe cap,” while the outsole design (Reg. No. 1,588,960) refers to the distinct diamond pattern on the sole of the shoe.
Simultaneously to filing its federal lawsuits, Converse filed a parallel complaint at the International Trade Commission (ITC) against the same alleged infringers for unfair trade practices (19 U.S.C. §1337 et seq.) related to importing shoes that infringed the Designs.
So why are these cases important? Beyond the large amount of potential financial recovery at stake, the outcome of these proceedings will have strong implications for cross-border trademark protection. Converse’s victory in its federal lawsuits may provide greater means for U.S. and foreign retail product producers to protect their products’ designs from unauthorized use in the U.S. by potentially expanding U.S. legal protections afforded to clothing and footwear trade dress. Further, an ITC ruling in Converse’s favor provides Converse the means to not only prevent the infringement of their trade dress, it also helps to stem the cross-border flow of shoes infringing their Designs.
Commentators have reported that Converse faces challenges in its actions because the Designs’ elements may be considered functional, and thus not protectable. Under U.S. trademark law, only distinctive non-functional elements of trade dress are protectable. See Two Pesos, Inc. v. Taco Cabana, Inc., 505 U.S. 763, 775 (1992). Since the Designs’ rubber toe bumper and cap, and outside design are arguably used to prevent wear and provide foot protection, they may be considered functional elements of the Chuck Taylor, and thus unprotectable.
In contrast, others believe that footwear trade dress precedent may give Converse the legal basis it needs to succeed in such actions through the Designs’ potential secondary meaning. In Christian Louboutin, S.A. v. Yves Saint Laurent Am. Holding, Inc., 2012 WL 3832285 (2nd Cir. 2012), the Court found that Louboutin’s iconic red sole of its luxury women’s shoe to be distinctive despite being a element of the shoe’s sole due to secondary meaning (aka acquired distinctiveness) that the sole had acquired amongst the general public, thereby granting Louboutin trade dress protection to its shoe’s red sole. As the Chuck Taylor shoes have been widely available in U.S. commerce for decades, Converse may be able to establish that the Designs acquired secondary meaning amongst the U.S. public, and are thus protectable despite their apparent functionality.
Impact of the ITC Action
Although Converse’s victories in its federal court actions would likely result in substantial financial recovery for Converse, a favorable ITC decision would arguably provide Converse greater cross-border benefits. The ITC provides rights holders of U.S. patent, trademark and copyright rights the means to petition the U.S. government under Section 337 of the 1930 Tariff Act to conduct an investigation of unfair trade practices, including the importation of goods infringing such U.S. IP rights. If such infringing importation is found, the ITC may issue a ban on such infringing imports. In Converse’s case, an ITC issued ban would prevent the alleged infringers’ importation of footwear utilizing the Designs into the U.S., and potentially deter transshipments of such footwear to other markets from the U.S. As such a ITC decision impacts the importation and exportation of shoes infringing the Designs, it arguably has more cross-border benefits as it could effectively provide Converse trademark protection across multiple markets through one legal action.
What’s The Takeaway?
If successful in both its federal and ITC actions, Converse may obtain substantial financial recovery and injunctive relief to prevent imitators from selling their shoe designs in the U.S. and potentially other markets. More broadly, a favorable ITC ruling for Converse would provide Converse the tools to protect its Designs and control the flow of goods infringing such Designs across markets, a strategy that commentators have reported is overlooked, but has the potential to provide enhanced cross-border trademark protections.
The Canadian Parliament reintroduced proposed legislation late last month that will dramatically impact how foreign copyright and trademark owners can protect their rights in Canada, and ultimately around the world. Reported to be enacted by the end of this year, the Combatting Counterfeit Products Act (Bill C-56; CCPA) proposes specific amendments to Canada’s Copyright Act and the Trade-marks Act that will allow foreign rights owners to better control the cross-border flow of counterfeit goods in Canada. The CCPA provides several notable reforms, including the expansion of registerable trademarks and new claims of recovery for trademark counterfeit goods. However, I believe its most important proposed reform is the establishment of a system allowing rights owners to register their copyrighted works and trademarks with Canadian authorities—while gaining help in detaining counterfeit shipments entering and leaving Canada.
The CCPA’s proposed request and detention system is an expansion of legal protections against counterfeit goods under current Canadian law because it introduces non-judicial measures rights owners can use to prevent the import and export of counterfeit goods in Canada. Currently, rights owners must obtain a Canadian court order to halt infringing imports and exports of counterfeit goods in and out of Canada. The CCPA addresses these limitations by allowing copyright and trademark owners to file a request for assistance with the Ministry of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness (Ministry). This allows Canada’s border authority, the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA), to monitor inbound and outbound shipments of counterfeit products for a two-year period, and temporarily detain counterfeit good shipments to allow further investigation.
Although rights owners will be required to provide a security deposit and fees for a detention, the request and detention system will provide a more expedient, inexpensive and overall more effective means for foreign rights owners to prevent the dissemination of counterfeit products, both in Canada and beyond. Filing a request for assistance with the Ministry is a faster and relatively less expensive procedure that seeking a court order. It also allows the CBSA to assist in policing shipments, complementing any monitoring activities conducted by foreign rights owners, and ultimately improving a foreign right owner’s overall global IP enforcement efforts.
Despite these benefits, the proposed request and detention system also has limitations:
Goods for Personal Use: The CCPA’s system does not cover counterfeit goods for personal use, such as those in personal baggage.
Parallel Importation: The system excludes copyright grey goods, namely copies of copyright-protected works made in a country outside of Canada where the copies were authorized to be made.
Transshipment: The CCPA’s system does not apply to transshipments. This means that foreign rights owners’ requests to the Ministry will not assist in detaining shipments of counterfeit goods that are only intermediately transiting Canada.
National Treatment: A foreign rights owner’s access to the request and detention system may also be limited depending on the type of IP they wish to enforce. A foreign copyright rights owner can likely access the system regardless if they are Canadian or if their work was created in Canada due to the legal protections provided in the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (Berne Convention). The Berne Convention allows a work from a Berne Convention country (Berne Convention countries) to qualify for protection in another Berne Convention country when it becomes attached. Attachment requires that the author of the work be a national of a Berne Convention country, 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. This means that if a foreign work becomes attached, and qualifies for protection under Canada’s Copyright Act, a copyright rights owner will have copyright protection for their work in Canada and may utilize the CCPA’s request and detention procedures once the CCPA is enacted.
Trademark rights owners will not be as easily able to utilize the CCPA’s system. Unlike copyrights, trademarks are generally territorial, meaning that a trademark or service mark registration only grants its owner rights in the mark in the territory of the registering country. This means that a trademark owner must generally have registered their mark in Canada in order for them to utilize the CCPA’s trademark request and detention system. Further, as Canada is not a member to the Protocol Relating to the Madrid Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Marks (aka the Madrid Protocol), foreign trademark owners need to obtain a Canadian trademark attorney to register their marks in Canada.
What’s The Takeaway?: The CCPA will give foreign copyright and trademark owners more effective and less expensive tools to protect their copyrighted works and trademarks in Canada and beyond. Its request and detention system does this by not only restricting imports of counterfeit goods, but also limiting their dissemination from Canada to other countries. Yet, the CCPA underscores the vigilance that foreign rights owners must have to ensure that they register and re-register requests for assistance for their works and marks. Only copyright and trademark owners (not authorized parties, e.g. licensees) can file requests with the Ministry to utilize the system’s full protections.
Further, the CCPA shows that foreign trademark owners who are serious about protecting their brands in Canada, and ultimately throughout the world, need to consider registering their marks in Canada in order to effectively utilize the CCPA’s request and detention system once it is enacted. Upon doing so, such owners can better insure protection for their marks in Canada and beyond.
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.