Using Customs to Fight Counterfeiting in Singapore: A Case Study

shutterstock_118547785The Customs can often work as the first line of defense, when companies are dealing with counterfeiters. However, not many SMEs are aware of the different cooperation opportunities with the customs. Thus, today’s blog post focuses on how the SMEs can use the customs in order to protect their IP in Singapore, one of the busiest ports in the  world. In order to give practical advice , the blog-post discusses a case-study on customs cooperation in Singapore. 

Singapore’s port is one of the world’s busiest ports and therefore a major transit point for imports and exports between Europe and Asia. EU exporters in a number of sectors have set up distribution centers in Singapore’s harbor from where they serve the wider region. As Singapore’s port is a major transport hub, it is also at high risk of shipments of counterfeits. To promote vigilance and bolster the safety and security of trade, the EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (ESFTA) contains provisions to strengthen cooperation in the field of Customs. In particular, the ESFTA will facilitate the granting of assistance based on reasonable suspicion of an operation being in breach of customs legislation and will promote greater exchange of information between authorities.

European SMEs can liaise with Customs to fight against counterfeiting of their products. The Singapore Customs is a governmental agency of the Ministry of Finance and their objective is the implementation of customs and trade enforcement measures including the checking and detainment of suspected infringing goods crossing the border. The Singapore Customs has the authority to detain imports, exports and re-exports of IPR- infringing goods.

How does Customs Protection Work

There is no official recordal system in Singapore via which businesses can request that Customs monitor and notify ex-officio of suspected infringing goods which are being imported into Singapore. Therefore, EU SMEs should not just rely on Customs to discover or monitor such shipments on their behalf, and instead will need to be proactive about monitoring by themselves and subsequently cooperating with Customs. Should SMEs already have details about a suspected illegal shipment in advance, it would be possible to activate border enforcement by giving written notice to Customs of a suspected import of IPR-infringing goods. It is worth noting that border enforcement can be only activated for IP that is registered in Singapore says Valentina Salmoiraghi, IP Business Advisor.

Procedure

To activate border enforcement, written notice in the official form (which can be found at http://app. agc.gov.sg/) must be filed with Customs to inform them of the suspected import of IPR-infringing goods. The notice may be sent via e-mail: customs_intelligence@customs.gov.sg or it could be delivered in person/via post to: Singapore Customs, 55 Newton Road #10-01, Revenue House, Singapore 307987.

The notice must be accompanied by:

  • A statutory declaration that the particulars in the notice are true;
  • A fee of Singapore Dollars 200 (approximately EUR 125);
  • Where the notice is given by an agent, evidence of the authority of the person giving the notice; and
  • In the case of suspected trade-mark infringing goods, a copy of the certificate of registration in relation to the Singapore registered trade mark.

SMEs must thus be vigilant in watching for unauthorized dealings with their registered trade marks and copyright themselves. They should also collate all necessary details which will enable them to file the requisite written notice to inform Customs about an impending import of infringing goods. If the SMEs are active themselves, the Singaporean Customs can be quite effective in helping IP rights holders to fight against counterfeits of their products arriving to Singapore’s market or being re-exported to other markets in the region says Valentina Salmoiraghi, IP Business Advisor.

The Customs are authorized to deal with trade mark and copyright infringements, but SMEs should keep in mind that Singaporean Customs do not have the power to search and detain goods thought to be infringing a patent.

SMEs should also bear in mind that they must institute legal proceedings for trade mark or copyright infringement within ten working days from the date of detention.

Working together with the Customs

Singapore Customs regularly liaises with IP rights holders to organize IPR product training for its officers. These training sessions allow rights holders to share information on various counterfeit goods and equip Customs officers with the knowledge to differentiate between genuine and counterfeit products. Working together with the Singaporean Customs thus helps the Customs to be more effective in fighting against counterfeits.

Case Study

The following case study demonstrates how customs can help EU SMEs to fight against counterfeiting when the SMEs themselves actively monitor the market.

Background

In late March and early April 2013, Singapore Customs received two lodgments of notice from a brand owner on two containers arriving from China to Singapore. The brand owner believed the containers contained items which infringed their trade marks. Acting on the information, Customs officers inspected two 40-footer containers which were consigned to a local company on 2 and 4 April 2013. Instead of “household goods”, over 30,900 counterfeit fashion items were discovered. The items were detained immediately.

Outcome

Over 30,900 counterfeit items that infringed trade marks belonging to six separate trade mark owners were discovered. Customs assisted the other five brand owners, whose trade marks were suspected to be infringed, to detain the goods – thereby allowing them to institute civil cases against the local consignee. All six brand owners applied successfully to the court for Singapore Customs to further detain the goods in April 2013, in order for their cases to be heard in court.

Lessons Learned

Businesses that commit large scale willful infringement of multiple trade mark rights exist and trade mark rights owners should establish comprehensive monitoring system to combat such infringers. Specific information provided by the brand owner enabled Singapore Customs to act swiftly to detain the counterfeited goods at the border. Cooperation with Customs is an important tool to overall improve and strengthen IPR enforcement against infringements in Singapore.

Listen also to our webinar on IP Protection with the Customs HERE to get more information on how to use the customs to protect your IP not only in Singapore, but the whole South-East Asia.

South-East Asia IPR SME Helpdesk Team

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The South-East Asia IPR SME Helpdesk supports small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) from European Union (EU) member states to protect and enforce their Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) in or relating to South-East Asian countries, through the provision of free information and services. The Helpdesk provides jargon-free, first-line, confidential advice on intellectual property and related issues, along with training events, materials and online resources. Individual SMEs and SME intermediaries can submit their IPR queries via email (question@southeastasia-iprhelpdesk.eu) and gain access to a panel of experts, in order to receive free and confidential first-line advice within 3 working days.

The South-East Asia IPR SME Helpdesk is co-funded by the European Union.

To learn more about the South-East Asia IPR SME Helpdesk and any aspect of intellectual property rights in South-East Asia, please visit our online portal at http://www.ipr-hub.eu/.

 

 

 

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