Wednesday, 17 December 2008 17:55


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The U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection ("CBP") prevailed in a recent decision from the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which concluded that CBP was authorized to seize watches bearing the counterfeit trademark "TOMMY", and impose a fine as a civil penalty on the importer, even though the owner of the mark at issue did not make or sell watches at the time of the seizure.  The case is entitled United States of America v. Able Time, Inc., and the decision can be found here

As discussed in the decision, the Tariff Act authorizes the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection to seize any  "merchandise bearing a counterfeit mark" and impose a fine as a civil penalty.  19 U.S.C. §1526(e) & (f).   The Defendant, Able Time Inc., attempted to import watches bearing the trademark "TOMMY," a mark owned by the Tommy Hilfiger Licensing Corp.  

In the proceedings before the trial court, Able Time argued that the watches were not counterfeit, and thus any seizure or fine was improper because Tommy Hilfiger did not make or sell watches at the time of the seizure by CBP.  As grounds for their argument, Able Time pointed to other trademark statutes, such as the Lanham Act, to illustrate that an "identify of goods or services" is required to establish that a mark is counterfeit. 

The Court of Appeals disagreed, and concluded that, unlike related trademark statutes, the Tariff Act does not contain an "identity of goods or services" requirement, and thus CBP was entitled under the Tariff Act to seize the watches and impose a civil penalty on the Defendant, Able Time. 

The CBP's ability to seize goods bearing counterfeit marks, and impose hefty civil penalties, is another of the several benefits conferred on the owner of a federal trademark registration.  Without a federal registration, it is highly unlikely, if not impossible, for the CBP to detect counterfeit marks, and prohibit their importation.     

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Oliver Ruiz

Oliver A. Ruiz is a partner with the firm, and represents clients and insurers in intellectual property disputes and litigation matters, as well as, in transactional matters, such as applications for trademark and copyright registrations. He has been rated as AV Preeminent by Martindale-Hubbell. Mr. Ruiz is admitted to practice law in Florida and North Carolina state courts, as well as, in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. He also represents clients in U.S. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board proceedings. 

He is a Past President of the Federal Bar Association's South Florida Chapter; and is active with other voluntary bar associations, such as the Dade County Bar Association and the Cuban-American Bar Association. Mr. Ruiz is also active with civic and service organizations, including the Rotary Club of Miami, where he proudly served as the Club's 100th President during its centennial year. Oliver earned a bachelor’s degree from Florida State University, and a law degree from St. Thomas University School of Law, where he was as a board member for the Moot Court Board, and President of the Student Bar Association. He is a native of Miami, and is fluent in Spanish.