U.S. Customs Seizure of $2M in Counterfeit Handbags

Customs made another high value seizure of counterfeit merchandise being imported into the United States with infringing trademarks under 19 USC 1526. Customs seized 198 counterfeit “Hermes Birkin” handbags that they allege infringe the a trademark.  The manufacturer’s suggested retail price, if the counterfeits were genuine, is $1,861,200. That is what the penalty amount will be calculated from.

We previously discussed, in a two article series, the dangers of importing counterfeit trademark merchandise into the United States, how it can result in seizure, monetary penalties, and how the importer can defend it. This story underscores the importance of everything we discussed in those articles: Importing Counterfeit Trademarks – Customs Seizures & Penalties; Part 1 and Part 2  (click to read). 

SAVANNAH, Ga. — U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Office of Field Operations at the Port of Savannah, Ga., seized 198 counterfeit Hermès Birkin handbags October 6. Had the goods been genuine Hermès Birkin handbags, CBP import specialists estimated that the merchandise would have had an estimated manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) of $1,861,200.

This seizure is the Port of Savannah’s third multi-million dollar seizure of counterfeit goods this year.

The shipment, manifested as polyurethane handbags, arrived to the Port of Savannah September 4 from China. It was destined to an address in Atlanta.

“Counterfeit goods pose a potentially serious safety threat to consumers and economic loss to U.S. businesses,” said Lisa Beth Brown, Area Port Director in Savannah, Georgia. Enforcing Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) remains a top trade priority for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.”

The counterfeit handbags will be destroyed. In July, CBP officers seized 377 cartons of counterfeit sunglasses with an estimated manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) of $1,619,550. … In April, CBP officers seized more than $1 million in counterfeit soccer apparel.

Importing counterfeit items into the United States is a very serious matter. First, it is very likely that after seizure the property will be forfeited and destroyed by the U.S. government if, in fact, they are violative of the trademark laws.

Once forfeiture is perfected, the person who caused the importation will probably get a notice of penalty from U.S. Custom & Border Protection in the mail for the equivalent of the value of the products if they were real. The importer will have a chance to respond to customs’ notice of penalty with the Fines, Penalties, and Forfeitures office by filing a petition for mitigation and ask customs to reduce the penalty based on the presence of certain mitigating factors that customs particularly looks for. Great Lakes Customs Law has been very successful in getting these kinds of penalties reduced and, sometimes, even eliminated entirely. If the person fails to pay the penalty, the government can bring a lawsuit in federal district court to recover the penalty in the form of a judgment, after which point the government can lien property, garnish bank accounts, and seize property.

If you have had money or merchandise seized by customs because they allege it is counterfeit and contains trademark violations, call our office at (734) 855-4999 to speak to a customs lawyer, or e-mail us through our contact page. We are able to assist petitions for customs seizures nationwide.