The AFTA™ Blog
AFTA is a national trade association of primarily small businesses providing essential services benefiting the diverse and economically challenged domestic marketplace for over 30 years. Our members operate in the best interests of their customers, working 24/7 to secure critically needed and competitively-priced, genuine and safe merchandise to ensure the continued health and well-being of all American consumers, without discrimination. As an association committed to fair trade and consumer access, the American Free Trade Association has and will continue to fight vigorously against any efforts to monopolistically control downstream product pricing, obstruct legitimate third-party competition or otherwise impede the free flow of vital consumer goods.
The Board is sorry to report that the founder and first President of AFTA, Joe Rares, passed away on October 4. Joe was an innovative and imaginative businessman who many have credited as a pioneer and creator of parallel market trade and price competition in the US marketplace for personal care, health and beauty aids and fragrance products. When he saw foreign manufacturers and brand owners were about to change US customs and intellectual property law to control distribution and pricing of their products, he created AFTA and a loose coalition of other interests which successfully preserved the marketplace in the courts, congress and the administration. Joe was always a larger than life character, at times tough and direct but always motivated by a deep intelligence, sensitivity and loyalty to family, friends and business.
Joe is survived by his three sons – Michael, Scott and Eric – and his long-time assistant Josie. A memorial service was held on October 11, 2018 in Boca Raton and the family requested that contributions in his memory be made to Mountaineer’s School of Autism (http://www.msainc.org/) or Rescue Life (https://rescue-life.org/).
(The author of the following blog, Matt Colvin, is a member of AFTA’s Leadership/Advisory Committee for its Internet Sellers and recently accompanied AFTA Board Members to Washington, D.C. to discuss IPR and eCommerce issues. Matt is a Disabled Veteran who is now able to stay home as the sole provider for his family thanks to eCommerce. He is passionate about protecting the ability of others to grow their own business and can be reached directly at email@example.com )
We started the day by going to a “Meet and greet” event held by TN Senators Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander. From there went to a private meeting with counsel and staff of the House Judiciary Committee, with whom AFTA has worked for many years on related IPR and trade issues.
The next meeting was with Senior Staff Members from Congressman Kevin Brady’s Office, including his communications Director who is an old friend of mine. Congressman Brady chairs the House Ways & Means Committee and the meeting provided us with an opportunity to join the IPR and eCommerce issues of import to AFTA Internet Sellers with the IPR and Trade issues about which AFTA has been heavily involved for many years.
From there we moved on to a meeting with Florida Senator Bill Nelson’s office, where additional resources were suggested for us to follow up on. Staffers also suggested that we reach out to the Government Accountability Office to provide inputs on an updated version of a recent E-commerce report that did not appear to sufficiently present the unique challenges of independent Internet Sellers of genuine branded merchandise such as those represented by the American Free Trade Association.
At this point, we left Capitol Hill and headed to a meeting with Customs & Border Protection (CBP) who is in the midst of a big push to try and regulate ecommerce – primarily trying to keep counterfeit items from coming into the US in small packages shipped directly to the consumer. We were able to give CBP some insight into how a typical Amazon seller operates. This meeting showed us that the challenges of eCommerce are much larger than merely those of immediate concern to AFTA Internet Sellers and that if we are to be considered as critical stakeholders as regulations, laws and policies develop down the road, we must remain aware of all of the many e-Commerce/IPR related challenges the government faces on a day-to-day basis, not just the ones that are of immediate concern to us.
Our final meeting of the day was, in my opinion, perhaps the most worthwhile and productive. AFTA had the privilege of meeting with the ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Courts, IPR and the Internet for well over an hour, discussing our concerns about “bully brands” who are abusing Copyright/Intellectual Property laws to restrict the ability of eCommerce sellers like ourselves to provide legitimate products to the consumer. The Congressman and his staff were clearly interested in what we had to say and they were also interested in the tax-related issues similarly of concern to small internet vendors. The Congressman and his staff spent much more time with us than had originally been designated and we all enjoyed a very thoughtful and productive discussion. This is an important relationship and we look forward to continued engagement with this Congressman and his office as AFTA further develops concrete strategies going forward and schedules our next trip to DC in the very near future.
Several of the people that we spoke with on this trip asked us “So, there is a problem – what are you wanting us to do about it?” and we let them know that our goal of this trip was to introduce the AFTA Internet Sellers to Capitol Hill and to set the stage for our next trips. The fact that we were in DC as AFTA’s newest members clearly made an impression on Capitol Hill because it meant we were serious and ready to do some business. It was clear to me that even though AFTA Internet Seller membership to date has not been overwhelming, AFTA believes in us and our issues and worked hard on our behalf to make this trip happen and our meetings productive.
Please reach out to me or any one on AFTA’s Board to share YOUR thoughts on the matter – if AFTA pursues a legislative solution what form would you like it to take?
It’s 2018 and AFTA is expanding its reach, its advocacy and its voice to include the particular issues and concerns now facing Internet Sellers reselling branded goods on platforms such as Amazon and Ebay. Rights owners are fighting to control e-commerce as they have fought for the right to control downstream distribution for generations in the world of brick and mortar store fronts. AFTA has committed its resources to support its Internet Seller Members as they try to keep up with and prevail against an avalanche of Violation Notices, Suspended Accounts and Allegations of Infringement. For more information and to learn more about these e-commerce driven initiatives, please take a look at https://aftaus.com/afta-internet-sellers/
For more information or if you would like to become more involved in these efforts, please let us know by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
On May 30, 2017. the United States Supreme Court in Impression Products, Inc. v. Lexmark International, Inc. held that when a patent owner sells a patented product all U.S. patent rights are exhausted by that single legitimate sale. The U.S. patent owner cannot rely on U.S. patent law to stop unauthorized, downstream sales or resales of patented goods.
A copy of the 7-1 decision, authored by Justice John Roberts can be found here: lexmarkvimpressionsscopinion
Here is the brief background of the case:
Lexmark designs, manufactures, and sells toner cartridges throughout the World and owns U.S. patents covering components, parts and manner of use of those toners. Lexmark provided purchasers with 2 options for purchasing its patented cartridges: they could pay full price and own the cartridge outright or they could participate in the manufacturer’s “Return Program.” Participants in the Return Program paid a reduced purchase price for a cartridge fitted with a microchip preventing further use and signed a contract promising only to bring a used cartridge back to Lexmark.
Over time, Impression Products was able to remanufacture Lexmark’s used cartridges by circumventing the microchips and started its own refill/resale business of the used Lexmark cartridges.
Lexmark sued for patent infringement claiming that the exclusive rights to prevent unauthorized imports found in U.S. patent law prevented Impression Products from reselling imported patented cartridges first sold outside of the United States. The Federal Circuit agreed that the unauthorized resales of the patented toner cartridges by Impression Products violated Lexmark’s U.S. patent rights.
The U.S Supreme Court, however, held that U.S. patent law cannot be used to enforce resale limitations that may or may not be enforceable under contract law and that once an authorized sale occurs — no matter where or by whom — the U.S. patent owner has exhausted its monopoly rights under U.S. patent law.
Of note, similar to its rationale in the 2013 Kirstaeng ruling (kirstaengvwiley), the Court held that U.S patent owners cannot rely on U.S. patent law to restrict product resales with the hope of reaping greater profits. In his opinion, Justice Roberts held “”The patentee may not be able to command the same amount for its products abroad as it does in the United States, but the Patent Act does not guarantee a particular price.”
It may not be unreasonable to expect efforts to legislatively overturn this decision, particularly because U.S. patent laws are often relied upon to restrict unauthorized downstream sales of patented pharmaceuticals. AFTA™ will carefully monitor and advise its supporters of any legislative efforts to overturn this decision.
The Battles Continue. The Stakes Have Never Been Greater.
For Over 30 Years, AFTA™ Has Supported Your Businesses and Advocated On Behalf of Parallel Traders and Wholesalers in the Alternate Source Marketplace.
Through 4 Major Supreme Court Cases and Thousands of Pages of Legislation and Proposed Rulemaking, AFTA™ Has Been Your Voice.
Please send an email to email@example.com to learn how you can support the critical work done on your behalf by the American Free Trade Association.
- Do You Purchase Products From Suppliers You Have Promised to Keep Confidential?
- Do You Sell Products in Packaging that Discloses Quantity in Grams instead of Ounces?
- Do You Sell Products with Instructions in English and Spanish instead of English Only?
- Is CBP or FDA Asking For Information About Products that Only the Original Manufacturer Could Possibly Know?
- Are Your Shipments Being Routinely Stopped, Detained and Inspected by CBP, Causing You To Lose Money, Reputation and Customers?
Here is Just Some of What AFTA™ Has Done, and Continues To Do, For You
- Submitted Briefs to the Supreme Court In Kmart v. Cartier, Quality King V. L’Anza, Omega v. Costco and Kirtsaeng v. Wiley.
- Preserved and Enhanced the First Sale Protections Existing in U.S. Copyright and Trademark Law.
- Trained CBP Officials Throughout the Country To Help Them Distinguish Between Counterfeit and Genuine Parallel Goods.
- Fought Against Criminalization of Decoding.
- Exempted Repackaging Goods from the Definition of Trafficking in Counterfeit Goods.
- Implemented Regulations Authorizing CBP to Work with Importers First To Verify Product Authenticity Before Contacting Brand Owners.
- Presented Workshop to Congressional Staffers on Issues Important to Your Business.
- Supports Anti-Counterfeiting Tools and Enforcement Measures.
- Routinely Meets with CBP and FDA Officials to Preserve Trade Secrets and The Ability to Enter Genuine Goods Without the Permission of the Rights Holder
- Builds and Maintains Relationships with Legislators and Regulators.
- Works Together with Coalitions and Consumer Groups to Protect Your Right to Resell.
- Monitors Legislative and Judicial Developments and Trends.
- Conducts Outreach and Grass Roots Campaigns.
- Creates Legislative Solutions to Counter Ambiguous Court Decisions.
- Developing a Known Importer Program for Parallel Traders.
- Distributes Information to Educate and Alert Industry Members to Imminent Threats and Policy Making.
For more information about AFTA™, to make a contribution or to become a member, please contact AFTA™ directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
This year, Lee Sandler, Esq., on behalf of the American Free Trade Association (“AFTA™”) conducted a training webinar for Customs & Border Protection (“CBP”) personnel about parallel imports. AFTA™ was also pleased to host a congressional staff briefing in Washington , D.C. during which Lee Sandler, Fred Paliani and Lauren Perez similarly provided an overview of the secondary marketplace and the ongoing issues challenging our industry.
A copy of the CBP training webinar can be found here: aftacbppresenationmay2016 and a copy of the powerpoint presentation that accompanied AFTA™’s in-person congressional staff briefing can be found here: aftapresentationcongressionalbriefingjune272016
AFTA™ continues to be the leading voice for the domestic parallel marketplace and looks forward to broadening its visibility, advocacy and educational programs on behalf of all industry participants. If you are interested in learning more about the American Free Trade Association and the opportunities for Association members, please contact Lauren Perez directly at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On September 18, 2015, Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) published its Final Rule for Disclosure of Information for Certain Intellectual Property Rights Enforced at the Border. The Rule finalizes and amends certain of the Interim Regulations for IPR disclosure published in April of 2012. A copy of the Final Rule can be found here: finalrulescbpiprdisclosure
Highlights of the Final Rule include:
*CBP can detain any merchandise for 30 days if the Agency suspects the goods may include a counterfeit trademark.
*The detention period of 30 days cannot be extended. Any goods not released after this 30 day period will be excluded from entry into the U.S.
Notice to Importer
*Within 5 days of the goods being detained, CBP will provide a written notice of detention to the importer, who will then have 7 days to convince CBP the goods are authentic. The notification from CBP will also advise the importer that the trademark owner may have already received certain limited information about the importation.
*Upon request, CBP will provide unredacted product images and/or samples to the importer at any time for the importer’s examination and/or testing.
Information Automatically Disclosed to Trademark Owner
*At any time after the goods are presented for entry and in all cases by no later than the date of the notice of detention, CBP will disclose the following information to the trademark owner: date of importation, port of entry, merchandise description, quantity, country of origin and/or redacted product images or samples.
Information that May Be Disclosed to Trademark Owner Prior to Seizure
*CBP may provide unredacted product samples and images to the trademark owner prior to seizure if the importer fails to prove product authenticity within 7 days after notification of detention. The trademark owner will be advised by CBP that the information provided may only be used to verify that the goods do not include a counterfeit mark. The importer will be notified that such a disclosure has been made.
*CBP can seize merchandise at any time (even if there has been no notice of detention and even during the 30 day period of detention) when/if it determines the goods include a counterfeit trademark.
*Upon seizure, CBP will disclose to the trademark owner information revealing the date of importation, port of entry, merchandise description, quantity, country of origin, name/address of manufacturer, name/address of exporter, and name/address of importer.
For further information about the Final Rule and how it may impact your import operations, please contact AFTA™ directly at email@example.com or toll-free at 1-844-3 -AFTAUS.
On June 19, 2015, Representative John Conyers (D-MI) made the following speech on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, insisting that anti-counterfeiting measures not impede lawful trade or unnecessarily increase the costs of doing business for lawful U.S. importers.
(Links to the referenced legislation and the 6/19/15 Congressional Record follow.)
“Mr. Speaker, although I oppose H.R. 644, the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015, I rise in support of Section 302 of the bill because it wisely allows Customs and Border Protection (CBP) the flexibility to determine when there is a suspicion that goods are counterfeit. The section clarifies that CBP shall consult with Intellectual Property (IP) owners and preserves the flexibility of customs to first consult as appropriate with the importer. However, it does not direct CBP to modify in any particular way its procedures regarding notice to importers prior to determining whether there is a suspicion that their detained goods are possibly counterfeit. This should result in earlier and more accurate decisions by CBP and preserve the ability of lawful importers to protect their confidential information from disclosure.
I am aware of cases where importers of genuine material have suffered significant and real costs because of CBP suspicions that the material was counterfeit. These losses occurred because shipments that were detained or seized were ultimately determined to be genuine and released long after their arrival and expected delivery dates. For example, in one case, a company suffered delays and increased costs for over 17 shipments that were seized or intensively examined by CBP over a three-month period after which all of the goods were ultimately determined to be genuine and were released long after their arrival and expected delivery dates. In another case, a company reported one shipment was seized and another one was detained for more than 30 days before both of these shipments were found to be genuine and were released. As a result of these long delays, the importers in each of these cases suffered significant costs for storage, brokerage, legal fees, product damage, and losses in customer good will.
I thank Chairman RYAN as well as the other Ways & Means Committee members who remain as committed as I am to preventing counterfeit merchandise from crossing our borders. I look forward to working with them to ensure smooth implementation of this new policy.”
9th Circuit Confirms Award of Attorney’s Fees to Costco for Omega’s Misuse of Copyright to Stop Gray Market Sales of its Watches
Today, the 9th Circuit confirmed that Omega Corporation was guilty of copyright misuse and confirmed the Lower Court’s award of over $360,000 in attorneys fees to Costco Corporation. The opinion strongly reaffirms that gray market competition is a check against the expansion of copyrights and proliferation of rights holders’ monopolies attempting to control downstream product distribution.
Take a look at just some of the highlights from both the Majority and Concurring Opinions.
- Omega’s attempt to expand the scope of its statutory monopoly by misusing its copyright in the Globe Design…. eliminated price competition in the retail market for Omega watches and deprived consumers of the opportunity to purchase discounted gray market Omega watches from Costco.
- Omega misused its copyright by engraving the Globe Design on the underside of its watches, and attempting to use copyright law to eliminate intrabrand competition from Costco in the retail watch market
- The district court…. concluded that “[b]y affixing a barely perceptible copyrighted design to the back of some of its watches, Omega did not provide—and did not seek to provide—creative works to the general public.” Instead, “Omega sought to exert control over its watches, control which it believed it could not otherwise exert.” Thus, the court concluded, it should have been clear to Omega that copyright law neither condoned nor protected its actions, and the imposition of fees would thus further the purpose of the Copyright Act. This conclusion was not error.
- “Copyright misuse is a judicially crafted affirmative defense to copyright infringement” designed to combat the impermissible extension of a copyright’s limited monopoly… Its purpose is to prevent “holders of copyrights from leveraging their limited monopoly to allow them control of areas outside the monopoly.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted)….
- Because unauthorized retailers, such as Costco, were selling gray market Omega watches in the United States below Omega’s suggested retail price, Omega attempted to maintain the price of its watches sold in the United States by inconspicuously engraving the copyrighted Globe Design on the underside of its Seamaster watches.
- Even drawing all reasonable inferences in Omega’s favor, there is no genuine dispute as to whether Omega sued Costco for copyright infringement at least in part to control the unauthorized importation and sale of Omega watches….
- Omega concedes that it designed and secured copyright protection for the Globe Design for the purpose of using copyright law to restrict the unauthorized sale of Omega watches in the United States.
- The Copyright Office granted Omega the exclusive right to control the importation and distribution of the Globe Design into the United States. It did not empower Omega to restrict competition from unauthorized retailers selling genuine, gray market Seamaster watches in the United States…
- Omega’s expansion of its copyrightlike monopoly eliminated competition from unauthorized watch retailers like Costco, thereby allowing Omega to control—through its exclusive distributor, Swatch U.S.A.—the retail pricing of Seamaster watches sold in the United States.
- If the copyright law allowed Omega to use its copyright to combat the importation and sale of all gray market watches that are stamped with the Globe Design, it would effectively grant Omega a copyright-like monopoly over the distribution and sale of Omega watches in the United States
- [Omega] eliminated price competition in the retail market for Omega watches and deprived consumers of the opportunity to purchase discounted gray market Omega
Additional information about this case can be found in earlier blog posts – just type “Costco” or “Omega” in the search box on the home page.
AFTA™ welcomes your thoughts, comments and feedback and looks forward to learning how you feel about this latest “finale” in the ongoing saga of Costco v. Omega. If you would like further details, documents or copies of earlier posts on this subject, please contact AFTA™ directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.