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FDRA: Proposed Bill Gives CBP Footwear Fake-Fighting Tools with Teeth

Customs and Border Protection may soon have new tools to assist in its mission of preventing counterfeit footwear from entering the U.S.—and key players in the industry have banded together to offer their support.

On Thursday, bipartisan legislation was introduced by Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC), Chris Coons (D-DE), Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) as a response to hearings that took place earlier in the year regarding issues of intellectual property theft.

The Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America (FDRA) has been a vociferous champion of the fight against counterfeits, which have seen massive increases across categories in recent seasons. According to the group and its members, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has lacked the proper enforcement tools and permissions to tackle the issue head on.

Conducting seizures simply based on trademark rights is no longer an effective avenue to fight fakes, FDRA argued in a statement on Thursday. Bad actors across the globe are shipping near-identical products into the country, and attaching the required trademarks after the goods have cleared customs.

The newly introduced legislation, dubbed the Counterfeit Goods Seizure Act of 2019, would grant CBP the legal authority to detain goods from shippers attempting to take advantage of the system’s loopholes.

“Footwear companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year to design, produce and ship innovative footwear to Americans. Counterfeit footwear threatens jobs in our industry and puts our consumers’ trust at risk,” FDRA president Matt Priest said in a statement released Thursday.

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“We applaud these leaders in working together to protect shoe brands and consumers and urge a speedy approval of this legislation by Congress and President Trump,” he added.

Executives from Nike, Wolverine Worldwide, Columbia Sportswear and Deckers echoed Priest’s sentiments.

Columbia Sportswear executive vice president and general counsel Peter Bragdon said the company is fighting aggressively to deter design patent infringement, “which threatens U.S. consumers, companies and individual innovators.” Bragdon is hopeful the new legislation will help CBP to seize imported infringing products before they had a chance to penetrate the U.S. market.

“Enabling CBP to enforce design patents at the border will fill a significant gap in the United States intellectual property enforcement regime,” Mike Jeppesen, president of global operations for Wolverine Worldwide, said.

“Border enforcement of design patents would not only help companies that invest in innovation, but also protect consumers from counterfeits and knockoff products,” he said. “This is an important time to enhance consumer protection as the growth of e-commerce has made it easier than ever to trick consumers into purchasing counterfeits and knockoff products.”

A number of other nations including China, Japan, South Korea, the European Union, India, and Mexico have already implemented regulations that provide for the enforcement of design patents and registrations through customs, and these efforts have helped “meaningfully stem the flow of counterfeit and knockoff products,” Jeppesen said.

“It is time for the U.S. to implement this proven mechanism for protecting suppliers and consumers,” he added.