Mouton boots stopped by the customs
The following shows a case where a pair of mouton boots bought through the internet was stopped by the customs due to suspicion of trademark infringement.
Details of the inquiry
I searched for boots on a major internet shopping mall and found a site advertising a stock of gray mouton boots I wanted, so I ordered one. I used credit card to pay for it. While waiting for delivery, I received a letter from the customs stating "The product is suspected of trademark infringement". I did not understand the meaning and I contacted the customs by telephone. They replied as follows: "The product has arrived from China. The destination is your address, so we sent the letter to you. The head office of the official boots manufacturer asked us to stop the goods if arrived from abroad, so we stopped the delivery. If you have any comments on the letter, please notify it in writing".
It was stated "official import goods" on the dealer's site, so I trusted it and ordered one. If it is a fake, I want to cancel the contract. Currently the dealer's site indicates "on extended leave" and I cannot get through to them. What should I do?
(woman in her 40s, homemaker)
After receiving this inquiry, National Consumer Affairs Center of Japan (hereinafter called "NCAC") checked the dealer's site and found the message "on extended leave". The site also mentions that currently it is not possible to respond to inquiries/phone calls or to deliver goods.
NCAC read the letter which the inquirer received from the customs. NCAC advised the inquirer to inform the customs that she would abandon the product if she has no objection to the content of the letter. The inquirer said "When I contacted the customs by phone, they told me that no contact means abandonment of the product", so NCAC told her to wait and see.
NCAC also informed the dealer that the product was stopped by the customs and advised the dealer to offer to cancel the contract.
In addition, NCAC contacted the credit card company in charge of the payment to explain the background of this case. NCAC asked the company to cancel the payment because the product ordered was probably a fake and the consumer has not yet received it telling that the document from the customs can be sent to the company if necessary, and advised the company to ask the dealer for necessary arrangements. The major internet mall has a forum for consumers to notify the mall company of any fraudulent dealer's site, so NCAC advised the inquirer to report the case to the mall company through this forum.
After a while, the inquirer reported: "According to your advice, I contacted the credit card company. They say that currently the dealer has not yet submitted the transaction. What should I do?". Then, NCAC contacted the credit card company, who replied as follows: "In case of internet shopping, the timing of submitting the transaction depends on individual dealers. Concerning this case, the dealer has not yet submitted the transaction to us, so there is no way to examine the case". NCAC explained the credit card company that the product had been stopped by the customs due to suspicion of trademark infringement and asked to make proper arrangements when the dealer submits the transaction.
NCAC informed the inquirer of the response from the credit card company and advised her to wait and see. At a later date, the inquirer reported: "After contacting the major internet mall, I received an e-mail from the dealer informing that the order was cancelled". Just to make sure, NCAC confirmed the matter with the credit card company, who replied "the dealer has not submitted the transaction". Then, NCAC concluded the consultation.
There has been an increase in the number of inquiries and complaints related to internet shopping (e.g. no delivery of the order, delivery of a product different from the order, copy merchandise, fake brand name goods...). NCAC alerted consumers on these problems in October 2014.
In this case, boots bought through internet shopping was stopped by the customs because "The product might fall under the category of goods infringing intellectual property rights".1
If a product suspected of infringing intellectual property rights is found during customs inspection, identification procedures are initiated to check if the import of the product is allowed or not. Then, a notification of initiating the identification procedures is sent to the right holder (e.g. patent holder) related to the product and the importer of the product.
In this case as well, the customs decided to initiate the identification procedures for the product due to suspicion of trademark infringement, and sent the notification to the inquirer, the destination of the product.
After receiving the notification, the recipient has to submit his or her opinions in writing if any within a specified period of time (e.g. "the product I want to import does not infringe intellectual property rights"). If no document is submitted by the recipient, the product will be identified as the one infringing intellectual property rights and will be confiscated and disposed of by the customs.
Later, the result of the procedures will be notified to the importer by the customs. Meanwhile, it is possible to (1) obtain a written consent on importing the product from the patent holder and submit it to the customs; (2) modify the product (e.g. removing parts infringing intellectual property rights); or (3) abandon the product voluntarily (voluntary abandonment of the ownership of the product).
In general, it is not practicable for consumers to do (1). The option (2) is meaningless because the product will be damaged and will not be satisfactorily used. The only feasible solution would be to abandon the ownership of the product by choosing the option (3) or by not submitting any written opinion.
In order not to purchase a fake product through internet shopping, it is essential to carefully read the description on the site and to purchase only through reliable shopping sites, not through sites you are even a bit suspicious.
- 1 Goods infringing intellectual property rights means "goods infringing patent right, utility model right, design right, trademark right, copyright, neighboring right, layout-design exploitation right, or breeder's right" (Article 69 (11) (i)-9 of the Customs Act) and/or "goods composing an act prescribed in Article 2 (1) (i), (ii), (iii) , (x) or (xi) of the Unfair Composition Prevention Act". The import of these goods is prohibited under the Customs Act. Goods often referred to as "copy merchandise" and "pirate editions" fall under the category of goods infringing trademark right or copyright.