Chicago, Illinois - In a room filled with Gucci handbags, Rolex watches, Nike Air Jordan shoes, and Oakley sunglasses, a fashionista may go hog wild and buy as many of these items as they can. There is one slight catch– they are all fake.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers at Chicago O’Hare’s International Mail Facility seize this merchandise daily, protecting the consumer and retail businesses.
These counterfeit items are seized because they represent a violation of intellectual property rights (IPR). violations undermine research and development efforts in new technologies, and rob from the investment and creativity of legitimate businesses. According to the Department of Commerce estimates businesses lose $250 billion a year to counterfeiting of trademarked consumer products.
CBP officers pull approximately 200 boxes a night that may contain counterfeit items, and a lot of the items are easy to see on X-ray. “Shoes and handbags are real easy to see on X-ray,” said CBP Officer Francis Byrne. “The real stuff isn’t sent through bulk mail, it arrives through a commercial shipment and we put a duty on it. The fake stuff we seize.”
CBP officers are constantly analyzing packages to determine if there is an IPR violation. There is an internal database which allows officers to compare the suspected merchandise to the images and information in their database. If there is a reasonable suspicion of an IPR violation, the CBP officer detains the merchandise so the appropriate import specialist can make their determination and appraisal.
“All of the merchandise is detained until we are able to put a value on it,” said Byrne. After the value is assessed all of the material is sent to a warehouse. During the 2017 fiscal year, CBP seized more than $1.2 billion worth of products with IPR violations. Frequently, the profits made from these illegal practices support other criminal activities such as money laundering and organized crime. CBP plays a vital role in the front-line enforcement of intellectual property rights.