The European Commission (EC) released a report on September 19, detailing the intellectual property (IP) enforcement efforts of the European Union’s 28 member state customs administrations.

The EC report of seized IP infringing goods at the European Union’s border points to China and Hong Kong as the country of origin for 60% of the seized goods. The fact that China and Hong Kong account for the majority of seized goods is consistent with results in recent years. Moreover, it is also consistent with statistics from the United States for the past several years.

The EC’s statistics are important for IP stakeholders as they underscore the continuation of recent trends regarding the impact of the internet. The EC report indicates that express couriers and the international mail system are used increasingly to get infringing goods into the hands of customers. Express couriers and the postal system accounted for 84% of all detention situations by customs officials when they suspected possible IP infringement, but sea traffic resulted in the highest number of actual IP infringing items stopped at the border.

The fact that consumers are now able to shop online and make payments for goods online facilitates the movement of infringing goods. Moreover, in view of the small quantities involved in individual purchases, it has become common for small quantities to be shipped via express couriers and the international mail system. The EC report states: “The top categories [of seized goods] are typically goods that can be ordered online and shipped via post or express courier”.

The important impact of online commerce is not simply that the postal system and express couriers are used, but that this requires greater scrutiny of shipments by customs officials or postal authorities that lead to the detection of very small quantities of items. Ultimately, this requires greater government resources to police the border and protect consumers from potentially infringing and dangerous or harmful goods.

The EC report also underscores the seizure of IP infringing goods that pose public health and safety risks. Between eight and nine million seized items, over one-third of the total, fell within the categories of medicines, personal hygiene, electrical, foods and beverages.  Europe’s concerns regarding quantities of infringing goods that pose risks to public health and safety are significant and consistent with concerns globally as seizures of such goods occur globally.

Both small quantity packages sent via express courier or mail and goods that pose threats to consumers make IP enforcement a critical function of government officials. The implications go beyond customs officers who work at border entry points. The use of the postal system to facilitate illegal trade necessitates greater involvement of postal officials. In addition, whether electrical goods or medicines, other government officials in regulatory agencies must be involved to prevent the entry of potentially harmful goods into the stream of commerce.

Ultimately, the trade in infringing goods strains government resources and requires active IP stakeholder involvement. While IP stakeholders tend to be active in Europe and the U.S., efforts must be pursued in other countries to ensure that IP owners are invited to be active in the countries of production of infringing goods in an effort to stop such goods before they are exported to destination markets.

This post was written by Timothy Trainer, a co-author of Customs Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights, published by Thomson Reuters. Follow Trainer on Twitter @TTrainerglobal.

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