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How do I reclaim seized property by US Customs CBP? I was unaware of any counterfeit trademark. What are my chances?

Huntington Beach, CA |

I ordered 30 laptops from China one month ago. They were seized in Alaska two weeks later. I received a letter from US CBP stating they had a counterfeit trademark of the "UL & Design" trademark on the power adapters. The " UL & Design" trademark is registered with the US Patent and Trademark Office under Registration Number 2391140 and recorded with US Customs and Border Protection under Record Number TMK 01-00176.

"The property was seized, prohibited from importation, and is subject to forfeiture under the provisions of 19 USC 1526e for violation of 19CFR 133.21b. 19CFR 133.21b states any article of domestic of foreign manufacture imported into the US bearing a counterfeit trademark shall be seized and, in the absence of the written consent of the trademark owner, forfeited. "

Attorney Answers 5


The UL logos are a bigger issue that merely trademark. UL is a product safety testing laboratory. It might not be legal to import the devices into the US if the products are not certified by a testing lab. The goods are probably never getting into the US.

You should contact an attorney in you area to advise you.

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If the goods you attempted to import into the country were counterfeit goods, your chances of reclaiming them are very low; US law provides very strong protection to trademarks in the event of knock-offs and imported fakes. Whether you knew when you ordered them and sought to import them is irrelevant with regard to their final disposition.

That said, if, as the other attorney indicated, the UL trademark is for product safety testing, you might want to consider yourself lucky that they were confiscated at the border. If one of those power adapters failed and it was discovered that you had been moving electronics with fake safety ratings, you would be facing some serious consequences.

I think your best course of action, if you can pursue it, is to attempt to recover what you paid for the laptops in the first place. That may be difficult, given that you ordered them from China and the Chinese are notoriously bad about copyright and trademark enforcement, though; that's the risk associated with buying cheap knock-off items from overseas. Speak to an attorney and seek guidance about pursing any course of action, however, as going it alone is likely to end poorly.

No information you obtain from this answer is legal advice, nor is it intended to be. You should consult an attorney for individualized advice regarding your situation. No attorney-client relationship is formed by my responding to your question.

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The "UL" mark is a certification mark that signifies a standard of testing and product quality. It cannot be stamped on a product unless that product has been properly certified.

It is highly doubtful you can do anything at this point and frankly anything you do now will likely incur a lot of legal fees so you will have to balance whether it is worth the effort especially if you already know at this point that the products were infringing.

You may want to discuss the over with a lawyer in private. Most of us here, including myself, offer a free phone consult.

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Natoli-Lapin, LLC
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The law firm of Natoli-Lapin, LLC (Home of Lantern Legal Services) offers our flat-rate legal services in the areas of business law and intellectual property to entrepreneurs, small-to-medium size businesses, independent inventors and artists across the nation and abroad. Feel free to call for a free phone consultation; your inquiries are always welcome: CONTACT: 866-871-8655 DISCLAIMER: this is not intended to be specific legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. No attorney-client relationship is formed on the basis of this posting.

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Based on experience with clients you will never recover your goods from Customs.

Based on experience with clients you will have little chance (but not no chance) of recovering your payment from China.

The above is general legal and business analysis. It is not "legal advice" but analysis, and different lawyers may analyse this matter differently, especially if there are additional facts not reflected in the question. I am not your attorney until retained by a written retainer agreement signed by both of us. I am only licensed in California. See also terms and conditions item 9, incorporated as if it was reprinted here.

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Instead of asking how to reclaim seized property, you ought to be asking whether you need to take steps to defend yourself in the event you face criminal prosecution for trafficking in counterfeit goods, with counterfeit UL certifications. If you are dealing in laptops made in China, the law imposes on you an absolute duty to assure that these goods are authentic and not counterfeit. Your next move is to retain criminal defense counsel to help you prepare in the event the justice department decides to prosecute. You should preserve all of your records, receipts, e-mails, and other communications because if the F.B.I. or justice department comes knocking at your door, you do not want to be accused of having destroyed relevant documents and obstructed justice. Purchase of this quantity of laptops is the type of activity that could definitely get on the radar screen of law enforcement.

Indeed, if anyone from the F.B.I. or other law enforcement officials try to question you about this, you should refuse to talk with them without having the benefit of legal counsel. Further, you should assume that your transactions with China are being monitored, and you should take proactive steps to avoid dealing in any other counterfeit goods. Get experienced IP/criminal defense counsel now. Hopefully, this won't go very far but you need to be prepared.

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