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Court Says Imports Need More Stringent Origin Marking

Country of origin markings have often been disputed over technical accuracy and now the Court of International Trade says certain imported goods will have to comply with a more stringent country of origin marking requirement as labels with a geographic reference were not trademarked at the time of importation.

According to international trade and customs law firm Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg (STR), the case involves 11 jeans shipments coming in from China in 2010. The jeans are marked with embroidery on the inside of the waistband that specify both the brand name and a geographical reference like “Los Angeles” or “USA.” The applications to trademark the products noted that the markings had been used in commerce since 2005, thought the trademarks were only registered in 2011.

The rule requires that the name of the country of origin in a product must be preceded by “made in,” “product of” or words to that effect if, “words or letters referencing a location other than the country of origin (e.g., “United States” or “American”) appear on an imported article or its container and may mislead the consumer as to the actual country of origin,” according to STR.

A separate rule states, however, that “when ‘United States,’ ‘America’ or the name of a U.S. location appears as part of a trademark or trade name, the associated good must be legibly, conspicuously and permanently marked to indicate the name of the country of origin of the article, preceded by ‘made in,’ ‘product of’ or similar words in close proximity or some other conspicuous location.”

The importers felt the less stringent origin marking should apply to the jeans because “trademark” isn’t defined in the ruling, but the court held that the more stringent rule should be applied because the jeans displaying two of the marks were added before the trademark applications were submitted, and that the jeans weren’t in compliance with the regulation because their country of origin labels weren’t close to the potentially confusing markings.