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2009 customs detentions of goods suspected of infringing Intellectual Property Right (IPR) - guide

22 July 2010
by eub2 -- last modified 22 July 2010

In 2009, EU Customs took action in 43,500 cases involving several million products suspected of being counterfeited or pirated at the external borders of the EU. This is according to the European Commission’s annual report on EU Customs Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), which was published today. Cigarettes, clothing and brand labels were among the main articles stopped by customs on suspicion of IPR infringements. However, products for daily use and posing a potential danger to citizens’ health, such as shampoos, toothpaste, toys, medicines or household appliances, also accounted for a significant part. Today’s report gives statistics on the type, origin and transport method of IPR infringing products stopped at the external borders.


How is this report compiled?

This report contains statistics on action by customs within the EU relating to the fight against infringements of intellectual property rights. They are established by the European Commission, based on the data transmitted by the EU Member States, in accordance with the EU's relevant customs legislation.

How do detentions of suspected IPR infringing goods in 2009 compare with previous years?

There has been a decrease both in the number of customs interventions involving goods suspected of infringing an IPR and in the number of goods detained, compared to last year. In 2009, over 43,500 cases of such goods were stopped by customs, totalling 118 million articles compared to 49.000 cases and 178 million articles in 2008. The relative decrease in the number of cases in 2009 is mostly due to the global economic downturn. The product categories for CD/DVD (-92%), electrical equipment (-44%) and shoes (-29%) show the most significant decrease in quantities of articles.

However, the number of interventions has increased steadily since 2001, growing from over 5,000 cases in 2000 to more than 43,500 cases in 2009. This can be explained by a closer cooperation between customs and the private sector and more efficient procedures at customs.

Why is it important that Customs enforce effective IPR at EU and international level?

In the EU alone, around 183 million customs declarations were completed in 2007. More than 1,5 million tonnes of sea cargo and 11 million tonnes of air cargo are checked each year. In this context, it is important to ensure that the 27 customs administrations of the EU enforce effective IPR when these goods travel at their borders.

The protection of IPR is key to the promotion of research, innovation and job creation in the EU and worldwide. It is also of the utmost importance that the EU strengthens the ability of customs to fight against goods that could be dangerous for consumers, especially for daily-use products such as toothpastes, body care articles, foodstuffs etc….

What is the reason of the decrease of detentions of suspected IPR infringing goods in 2009?

The main reason for such a decrease is the economic downturn. When looking at the detailed figures, you will notice the increase in 2008 was mainly due to some record detentions of CD/DVDs. These mass detentions explain the steep differences from one year to the other. The number of customs interventions in 2009 is therefore comparable to the year 2007.

Which types of articles are detained the most by customs?

Clothing is the category of products for which most interventions take place (27%).

In terms of number of articles detained, tobacco products come first (35 million pieces) followed by a label, tags and stickers (15 million).

What types of medicines have been detained?

The most popular counterfeited medicines are life-style medicines (such as diet pills or Viagra). However, other serious medicines such as pain killers, antidepressants, anti-allergics, anti anxieties, treatment of HIV or medicines to control hypertension are also found as counterfeit medicines.

Where did the suspected IPR infringing goods come from?

China is the main source country for IPR infringing articles with 64% of the total amount. This represents an increase compared to 2008 (54%). However, in certain product categories, other countries were the main source of provenance, notably Turkey for foodstuff and beverages, the United Arab Emirates for medicines and Egypt for toys and games.

Which means of transport are most used to import suspected IPR infringing goods into the EU?

With regard to transport, last year's general trends were maintained; in particular the number of cases in postal transport (34%) continued to grow strongly. Air transport remains first with 38% of the cases. Road transport is third with 13% of the cases.

With regard to the articles detained, the overwhelming majority is transported by sea (75%) and air (16%). There were minimal amounts of detention made in connection with rail transportation, both in terms of cases and quantities.

Is the detention of IPR infringing products only a matter for customs authorities?

Customs administrations in the EU are at the forefront of enforcement activities at the external frontier of the EU. Customs can suspend and detain shipments that are suspected of infringing intellectual property rights. At the border, customs authorities focus on the control at import and export of physical goods. They also play a key role in stopping the international movement of IPR infringing goods; the majority of all detentions made globally are done by Customs, acting as the first line of defence when protecting EU's borders from counterfeit, pirated or other IPR infringing goods.

Customs are also the only enforcement body assigned with a specific mission under the World Trade Organisation's Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement.

However, co-operation with other actors such as businesses or other law enforcement authorities also needs to be enhanced to ensure that the problem of IPR infringements is kept under control.

In most Member States, law enforcement authorities other than Customs are also assigned to control and seize IPR infringing goods within their territories, for example at open markets or where production of such goods is discovered on their territory.

How effective is the cooperation with the industry?

As the quality of IPR infringing goods has substantially improved and more and more highly technical goods are involved, customs have found it more and more difficult to detect infringing products. Input from industry becomes therefore indispensable.

The assessment of suspicious goods made by customs authorities relies heavily on the information given by the industry(such as the type of IPR infringing goods, information on production and means of transport, physical characteristics of original goods etc…). The European Commission, in collaboration with Member States has established a manual for right holders for lodging and processing applications for action (see Commission's DG TAXUD's website). When right holders suspect that their product is infringed, they may lodge an application, requesting customs to take action. The number of applications for action made in the Member States grew from nearly 1,000 in 1999 to almost 15,000 in 2009.

How many applications were made by the industry in 2009 compared to previous years?

The growing involvement of industry is measured through the increasing number of applications for action made in the Member States. In 2009, right holders lodged 14,797 applications for action to Customs administrations. This corresponds to 90 % of all related customs interventions.

What happens to goods once they are detained by customs?

More than 70% of all detained cases were destroyed or subject to a court case to determine the infringement. 10% were released because they did not infringe original goods or no action was undertaken by right holders after the seizure.

What is done to ensure customs cooperation with third countries?

In addition to EU controls at import, it is necessary to act at the source of the problem by stopping the export of counterfeit goods and, where possible, by shutting down the production. This requires international cooperation.

For instance, an agreement was reached with China to develop a customs action plan on IPR enforcement, which was signed on 30 January 2009. The plan concentrates on 4 key areas, namely the exchange of statistical information, the creation of a network of customs experts in key-ports, the enhancement of cooperation with other enforcement administrations and development of partnerships with business communities. Its implementation started in April 2009.

In which Member States did Customs seize the most infringing goods?

The top 10 Member states account for 85% of the overall amount of cases and 92% of the overall amount of articles. Six Member States appear in the top 10 of both cases and articles, namely Germany, Italy, France, The Netherlands, The United Kingdom and Spain.

What is done to improve the current regulation on IPR enforcement in the EU?

The current legislation on IPR enforcement dates back 2003. The Commission is currently working towards a proposal to improve the current legislation which should provide a further strengthening of the provisions concerning customs enforcement of IPR, whilst at the same time ensuring appropriate legal clarity of the provisions themselves. For that purpose, it carried out a review of the existing legislation with Member States and launched a public consultation which ended on 7 June 2010. This consultation raised amongst other the issue of small infringing consignments which have significantly increased in the field of postal and air transport. The Commission intends to make a legislative proposal by the end of the year to clarify and simplify procedures.

Will counterfeit goods be raised in the Customs international conference that will take place in Shanghai next September?

Commissioner Algirdas Šemeta will discuss several issues in Shanghai next September. Amongst the topics to be raised are the international cooperation between customs authorities, the protection of intellectual property rights and the need to improve the implementation of the EU-China Action plan as well as cooperation in the field of cigarette smuggling.

Annual Commission report on EU Customs Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR)

Source: European Commission

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