Chinese Customs’ Annual Report and What It Suggest for Corporate IP Strategies

Chinese Customs published its 2014 Report on the Situation for IP Protection last month. The report summarizes the current situation for Customs protection of IP in China as follows:

  1. The vast majority of seizures were initiated on an ex officio basis by customs (98% or higher)
  2. Nearly 97% of the seizures by quantity involved infringement of trademark rights. Chinese Customs can also seize goods that infringe copyright and patents. The low level of copyright seizures likely reflects the increased incidence of on-line infringement.
  1. About 96.5% of the product seizures were on exports.
  2. Consumer Goods Dominate Seizures. Amongst suspected infringing goods, tobacco products, light industry, cosmetics, clothing, etc. dominated. There was also an adjustment in product mix compared to last year, with a decline in hardware goods, pharmaceutical, hats, telecommunication equipment, toys, and food products. Note that 44 percent of the seizures were tobacco related. The next largest single category was cosmetics and personal care products. Less than one percent was pharma products.
  3. Postal and sea shipments are principal channels. Postal shipments accounted for 80.2% of seizures, with an increase of 33% from past year. 96.3 percent of the seizures were made involving shipments by sea.
  4. Greater Diversity in Destinations of Seizures. Chinese Customs seized goods involving 153 countries and territories. Amongst these, the Middle East and Latin American had significant increases.   By value the US was the second largest destination of seizures after Hong Kong. However many third world countries in Africa and elsewhere were in the top ten by value, quantity of products, and/or numbers of shipments. Brazil for example was number one for seized shipments.
  5. Seizure Activities Are Dispersed, but also Concentrated in Several Ports.  Shenzhen, Shanghai, Ningbo and Hangzhou regions dominate by value of seized shipments.

Based on this report, here’s my takeaway of steps US rights holders can take to improve cooperation with Chinese Customs:

A) Train Chinese Customs on product identification. As most of Chinese customs seizures are ex officio, the report underscores the importance of advising Chinese customs on how to identify infringing products. Of course, the prerequisite to these activities is recording your rights with Chinese Customs.

B)  Work with on-line e-tailers. There are an increasing number of seizures coming from inland ports, where goods are likely being booked on line. Moreover, goods are being shipped to a diverse number of ports. The report suggests the importance of working with on-line e-tailers, like Alibaba, to take down shipments.

C) Leverage cooperative agreements. Chinese Customs has numerous agreements with foreign countries, and has also been involved in several agreements to improve domestic enforcement, such as between Chinese customs and public security (police) authorities. Leveraging these cooperative agreements may help facilitate enforcement activity.

D) Use enforcement resources strategically. Clearly some Chinese ports are more active than others. In addition, some products seem to be attracting more attention than others. Although seizures of counterfeit pharmaceuticals, auto parts and other health and safety items are relatively low, I believe there is still room to encourage Customs to focus on items where public health or safety are affected.

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