US Takes New Steps to Combat Counterfeit Products

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On January 31, 2020, the White House issued an executive order outlining several new steps to address the ongoing and growing issue of the sale of counterfeit goods through e-commerce platforms over the internet, which harms both manufacturers and sellers of authentic products and the consumers who purchase the fake (and sometimes physically harmful) products. Estimates show that the annual value of counterfeit goods traded internationally rose from $200 billion in 2005 to $509 billion in 2016. U.S. Customs and Border Protection reports 27,599 shipment seizures stemming from intellectual property violations in fiscal year 2019. Those most commonly affected by the sale of counterfeit goods include the personal care, apparel, electronics, luxury goods, software, entertainment and media, and automotive industries.

Several agencies, including CBP, the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the U.S. Postal Service are involved in the anti-counterfeiting efforts. New steps include (1) the revocation or suspension of Importer of Record numbers for those caught importing counterfeit goods; (2) requirements for consigners, carriers, hub facilities, and customs brokers to notify CBP of any importers known to be dealing in counterfeit goods and to cease transacting with such parties, with increased scrutiny and penalties for noncompliance; (3) the creation of a task force between the CBP, DHS, and USPS in order to determine permissible ways to prevent and deter the transport of counterfeit goods through the postal system, including the targeting of particular international posts (for example, the Chinese postal system) for repeated violations; (4) the periodic publishing by DHS of information relating to seizures and violations; (5) DHS and CBP recommendations of best practices for e-commerce platforms and third-party marketplaces; and (6) the prioritization by Federal prosecutors of offenses involving counterfeiting or piracy.

Importantly, per DHS reports, CBP will “treat domestic warehouses and fulfillment centers,” like ones operated by e-commerce giant Amazon, “as the ultimate consignee for any good that has not been sold to a specific consumer at the time of its importation.” As such, e-commerce platforms that store violative products, even if those products are technically in the possession of third-party sellers while they are being stored, will have a “greater responsibility” to cooperate in the identification and removal of such products, and “greater liability” for failure to cooperate. This could potentially benefit private litigants as well – if e-commerce stores have a greater responsibility to inspect, identify, and address counterfeit products, the threshold for a finding of willful or knowing infringement, which can lead to damage multipliers and attorney fee awards, could be reduced. Even the prospect of such increased penalties can create powerful leverage for settlements beneficial to infringement plaintiffs.

Conkle, Kremer & Engel has extensive experience helping product manufacturers and distributors investigate and enforce their rights to stop and remedy counterfeiting, parallel importation, gray market and other trademark- and intellectual property-infringement claims. CK&E attorneys are well-versed in the careful initial steps that should be taken promptly when sales of illicit products are suspected. CK&E keeps abreast of the latest laws and techniques that permit manufacturers and distributors to identify, prevent, and report counterfeiters and other IP violators. Stay tuned for additional CK&E blog posts as we monitor important developments relating to e-commerce counterfeiting.

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The Conkle Firm Presents at Personal Care Product Council’s Emerging Issues Conference in Marina del Rey

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Zachary Page and Eric Engel being introduced for PCPC Emerging Issues Panel on Product Counterfeiting and Brand Protection

Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorneys Eric S. Engel and Zachary Page presented to beauty industry professionals on hot and developing legal issues in brand protection, grey market and product counterfeiting at the Personal Care Products Council’s November 20, 2019 Emerging Issues Conference. The Conference was held on the 10th Floor of the Marina del Rey Marriott, with a spectacular view over the nearby marina and beach.

Among the topics covered by Zach were issues of registering U.S. trademarks for CBD products, and other previously unregisterable brands. The 2019 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corp. v. Wall-Street.com put new importance on registering important copyrights well in advance of their need for infringement claims, and Zach discussed the close relationship with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s “DMCA Clock” to takedown infringing online publications. Trends toward false advertising claims based on “natural” and “organic” labeling were also discussed, as were the dramatic increase in medical claim class action and other lawsuits. Zach also briefed the gathered industry experts on the various issues that affect uses of models and others without adequate documentation of consent, which can raise serious right of publicity as well as copyright concerns.

Eric addressed grey market and counterfeiting case development, including the importance of creating “materially different” packaging for U.S. and foreign products. Simple and low-cost ways to help DHS/CBP protect brands against importation of foreign-labeled versions of their own products, as well as counterfeits, was outlined. Also outlined were cost-effective techniques such as recording trademarks online with CBP’s IPR e-Recordation system, Lever Rule Protection, providing CBP with effective Product Identification Training Guides (PITG), conducting IPR Webinars for CBP distribution, and posting e-Allegations online. On combating counterfeiting, Eric addressed Amazon.com specifically because it now accounts for more than half of U.S. online consumer sales, and more than half of Amazon’s online sales are on behalf of third parties in its “marketplace.” Amazon acknowledges no responsibility for sales in its marketplace, beyond closing seller accounts and refunding its customers’ money when they can show that they were sold counterfeit and defective products. Eric discussed the developments in Amazon’s selling and fulfillment practices and in the law of counterfeiting and products liability that suggest that Amazon’s currently-strong denials of responsibility for third party’s products and sales practices may be less compelling in coming years.

CK&E attorneys regularly give presentations to personal care product industry professionals to help them understand and proactively address the latest legal concerns that affect and can inhibit growth of their businesses.

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The Conkle Firm is at Cosmoprof Asia, Hong Kong

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Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorneys John Conkle and Sherron Wiggins are busy at Cosmoprof Asia in Hong Kong. CK&E is again the proud sponsor of California Trade Alliance’s California Pavilion, providing the meeting lounge so California businesses can be in the room where it happens.

The first day for CK&E at Cosmoprof Asia was largely devoted to catching up with old friends of the firm and meeting new ones. Many of the attendees have been CK&E clients or employees of clients for years. One such person is Greg Starkman who, as an executive of Joico in the early 90’s, worked with CK&E on numerous matters. Greg and his wife Joanne now head up Innersense Organic Beauty, which manufactures and sells a line of natural and organic hair care products “dedicated to purity, peace of mind, and the practice of self-care.”

We also viewed outstanding and innovative products that are finalists for the annual Cosmoprof Asia Awards. Several caught our attention, including two products selected due to their packaging. One uses a container made of recycled coffee grounds and polylactic acid (aka polylactide or PLA), which is a thermoplastic aliphatic polyester derived from renewable resources that gives the package a small carbon footprint. The other notable package is manufactured from industrial waste. Other innovative products of interest include a hair dryer weighing only .6 lbs, and a patented plastic makeup container that features a magnetic closure.

So far, attendance at this year’s Cosmoprof Asia appears to be reduced from last year. Many of the attendees believe that the reduced attendance may be affected by the citizen protests that have taken place in Hong Kong over the past few months. Some attribute the attendance drop-off more specifically to the reluctance of Chinese citizens from the “Mainland” to come to Hong Kong during the protests. But there’s a bright side to the smaller crowds – CK&E attorneys have more time available to meet with clients and prospective clients, and to learn about the new products and trends in the beauty industry.

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Making Your Mark in the Craft Beer Business, Part One – Identifying and Protecting Your Trademarks

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According to the Brewer’s Association there were over 6,000 craft breweries operating in the United States at the end of 2017. In an increasingly crowded market, how do you ensure that the craft beer consumer is able to distinguish your brewery from your competitors? You should begin by identifying your trademarks.

A trademark is any word, phrase, symbol or design that uniquely identifies the source of one company’s goods from those of other companies. While the law in the United States recognizes a broad range of “source identifiers” as trademarks, most companies focus their intellectual property protection efforts on brand names, slogans and logos. Especially at the early stages of your business, it is important to focus your protection efforts on the essential elements of your brand. For example, your brewery may have a dozen regular varieties of beer, plus several small release or seasonal brews throughout the year. Seeking trademark registrations for each of your beers may quickly deplete your legal budget, and so a more focused approach is usually the best course of action. For most breweries, their primary protection efforts should focus first on their brewery name and logos, and then on the names of one or two of their flagship beers.

In the United States, a brewery’s trademark rights arise at the time it starts using the mark in commerce. This means that the first person to begin using a trademark in connection with the sale of beer owns that mark, and may be able to prevent others from using confusingly similar marks on beer and beer-related goods and services. That is, a registration with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is not necessary to own a trademark. However, these “common law” rights are limited in that they can only be applied to the geographic area in which you are selling your beer. Any business that is serious about protecting its brand should seriously consider applying for registration of the essential names and logos.

Some of the benefits that federal trademark registration provides to the trademark owner include:

(1) Preventing infringement problems before they begin by making your marks easy to find in a search of marks registered with the USPTO;

(2) Getting the USPTO to do a degree of enforcement on your behalf by preventing the registration of other marks found to be confusingly similar by the USPTO’s examiners;

(3) Giving you nationwide priority when your marks might otherwise be limited to the geographic area in which you are using the mark;

(4) Putting other companies on notice of your trademark rights so that they cannot claim that their subsequent use of your mark was in “good faith;”

(5) Creating a presumption of validity and ownership of your mark in the event that you need to sue another company for infringing your trademark rights;

(6) Providing the ability to recover treble damages and attorney’s fees in “exceptional” cases of trademark infringement;

(7) Providing the ability to recover statutory damages in cases involving counterfeiting;

(8) Giving you the ability to file for “incontestability” after five years of registration, which severely limits other companies’ ability to invalidate your trademark;

(9) Empowering Customs and Border Protection to block imports that infringe your trademark rights, including counterfeit products, once you record your trademark registration with Customs; and

(10) Granting you the right to use the ® symbol in connection with your beer, further putting your competitors on notice of your trademark rights.

Even if you’re in the planning process, and have not begun selling your beer yet, you may apply on an “intent-to-use” basis, meaning that you have concrete plans to begin using your mark in connection with the sale of beer. An intent-to-use application allows you to claim priority over other companies who might begin using your mark or a confusingly similar mark in the period between your application date and the date you start actually using the mark.

Keep in mind that you may not be able to establish exclusive trademark rights in a mark that is generic or descriptive of your products. For example, if you’re selling an IPA called “Hoppy IPA,” you will likely be unable to stop other breweries from using the name “Hoppy” in connection with their hop-forward beers. The “Hoppy” mark would be deemed descriptive because it describes a characteristic of the beer. The only way to establish trademark rights in a descriptive mark is to show that consumers associate the mark with your company. In the “Hoppy IPA” example, that means that consumers who hear “Hoppy” would need to immediately connect that term with your brewery.

On the other hand, you can reference a characteristic of your beer with a suggestive mark that requires consumers to use some imagination to connect your mark to the product. For example, consider Deschutes’ “Fresh Squeezed” mark for their IPA brewed with Citra hops, which alludes to the citrus notes in their beer. Stronger still are arbitrary names that have no direct connection to your beer or its characteristics (think “Stone Brewing” or “Rogue Ales”) or fanciful names you made up that have no literal meaning (like “Mikkeller” or “CANarchy”).

Stay tuned for Part Two of our brewery-focused trademark posts, in which we will discuss considerations regarding coexistence agreements.

Conkle, Kremer and Engel has assisted its clients in securing and protecting their trademarks for over thirty years. Whether you’re in the planning stages or already operating your brewery, contact Zachary Page or CK&E’s intellectual property team for help identifying or protecting your trademarks.

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Conkle Firm Attorneys at Craft Beer Summit

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Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorneys Evan Pitchford and Zachary Page will attend the California Craft Beer Summit September 6-8, 2018 in Sacramento, California.  The Summit is presented by the California Craft Brewers Association, the preeminent craft beer trade group and legislative advocate in California, which is in turn one of the most progressive states in terms of its policies towards the craft beer industry.  The Summit is one of the largest West Coast craft beer-oriented industry events, with thousands of industry professionals and exhibitors in attendance each year.

Mr. Pitchford and Mr. Page will attend to meet with industry professionals and keep current on the latest industry trends, including legal developments, craft brewing distribution and business issues, and evolving beer styles.  For example, this year’s Summit seminars include the cutting-edge topic of brewing, selling, and advertising products with cannabis-derived ingredients such as hemp and cannabidiol (CBD) oil, creative uses of ABC licenses, updates on the Tax and Trade Bureau’s guidelines and requirements, and discussions on the changing and more competitive retail environment in California.

Conkle, Kremer & Engel brings its decades of experience to bear on a number of beer industry-specific issues, such as brand protection and intellectual property, distribution and vendor relations, state and federal regulatory issues, advertising and labeling, employment law, and litigation and alternative dispute resolution in state and federal courts.  If you’re an industry professional or craft beer-related business who will be at the California Craft Beer Summit and would like to connect with Mr. Pitchford and Mr. Page before, during or after the event, please contact them at e.pitchford@conklelaw.com and z.page@conklelaw.com.  They would be happy to arrange free initial discussions about particular issues you may be facing.

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Cosmoprof North America Features Challenging CBD, Natural and Organic Product Lines

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On July 29 and 30, 2018, Conkle, Kremer & Engel continued its annual firm attendance at Cosmoprof North America in Las Vegas, visiting with longtime and new clients and observing new brands and trends in the personal care industry.  This year’s edition of Cosmoprof had over 36,000 attendees with a record-breaking 1,278 exhibitors from 45 countries.  CK&E attorneys attend to connect with clients and others in the cosmetics, personal care, packaging, labeling and professional beauty markets, to help clients secure distribution agreements, and to learn about the newest industry innovations and issues.

This year, trends included substantial expansion of the mens’ care and beard care sector, along with CBD-infused cosmetics and hair care products and natural and organic hair regrowth formulas.  Organic products sold in California must meet strict requirements, and Products with “natural” claims can present special challenges and risks, as CK&E has addressed in previous blog posts, such as “What are Natural Products Anyway?”  A new twist has been recent growth (no pun) in “hair regrowth” products labeled as “natural” or “organic” .  Those classes of products face special issues in addition to whether they can fairly be called “natural” or “organic,” in that hair regrowth claims can at times run afoul of federal prohibitions on products that make drug-like claims without FDA approval, as well as federal and state labeling and advertising regulations.  Finally, a new class of beauty and hair care products are based on Cannabidiol (CBD) content, taking advantage of increased acceptance of cannabis-based products.  Yet CBD products continue to pose their own special issues, which will be the subject of an upcoming www.conklelaw.com blog post.  CK&E is well-versed in counseling clients on all such issues, from brand protection, vendor and distribution issues to the latest CBD, natural and organic product concerns.

Lastly, foremost on the minds of many manufacturers and distributors who sell in California were the new requirements for Proposition 65, the well-known California law requiring “Prop 65” warnings for products which contain chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive harm.  New warning label requirements go into effect on August 30, 2018, which CK&E has already summarized on its blog.  CK&E is actively advising manufacturers about the most efficient and effective ways to address the changes and avoid the risks of inadvertent violations.

CK&E’s attorneys continue to pride themselves on keeping abreast of developments in the personal care market, along with assisting clients of all sizes with growth and protection of their brands and interests.  CK&E is an active member of the Professional Beauty Association, the Personal Care Products Council, and other important industry trade organizations.

 

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The Conkle Firm Presentation at 2018 PCPC Legal & Regulatory Conference

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On May 9, 2018 Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorney John A. Conkle presented on “The State of the States” panel at the 2018 Personal Care Products Council’s Legal & Regulatory Conference.  The panel focused on the increasingly strong role of state legislatures and state regulatory bodies in addressing issues of importance to the personal care products and cosmetics industries.  The panel featured lively discussion of issues arising from the evolving patchwork of laws and regulations among numerous states, including California’s infamous Proposition 65, slack fill laws, and labeling and ingredient disclosure regulations, ingredient phase-out requirements and outright bans, volatile organic compound limitations to protect air quality, and animal testing regulations.  The discussion included the importance of preservation and presentation of evidence to support manufacturers’ positions, including testimony in depositions and at trial.

The panel’s presentation is available here for review.  Contact John Conkle to discuss the latest issues affecting the state of the personal care products and cosmetics industries.

 

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CKE Attorneys Attend Craft Brewers Conference in Nashville

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From April 30 to May 3, 2018, attorneys Evan Pitchford and Zach Page of Conkle, Kremer & Engel attended the Brewers Association’s Craft Brewers Conference in Nashville, Tennessee.  The Conference, with nearly 15,000 attendees, is the premier trade show, educational, and networking event for the craft brewing industry.  At the Conference, Mr. Pitchford and Mr. Page participated in numerous business and legal affairs seminars and conferred with brewery operators and executives, suppliers, attorneys, accountants, and consultants from California and across the country.

While the main theme of the Conference was solidarity and cooperation between independent craft brewers and their networks, prominent legal and business issues discussed among attendees often focused on the increasingly crowded space of the craft beer market.  This increasing competition has resulted in intellectual property conflicts and disputes (for example, regarding trademarks for brewery names or branding for particular beers) that craft brewers need to plan around when starting their business and expanding their portfolios.  CK&E has attorneys like Mr. Page and Mr. Pitchford who are experienced in assisting clients in selecting, registering, and enforcing trademarks and trade dress in many consumer product industries.

Another hot business topic concerned distribution models for small breweries.  In several states (including California), self-distribution is available for small breweries (California allows for self-distribution regardless of volume), but as our previous blog noted, oftentimes a small brewery reaches a point where it cannot handle its own distribution and must seek out a distributor.  And, of course, in many other states, self-distribution is not permitted at all, necessitating the involvement of a distributor when a brewery wishes to sell draught beer or package their products.  Many small breweries are concerned not only with the myriad choices of distributors, but also with finding a distributor that is the right fit and will actively promote their portfolio, and with the often restrictive laws that are involved in manufacturer-distribution relationships.  Breweries should certainly be choosy about their distributors when possible, and in many jurisdictions there are an array of potential contractual provisions (for example, regarding sales goals, chain vs. independent accounts or other account stratification, marketing, plans for brand growth, audits, etc.) that can help shape a distributor relationship before it starts.  It pays to consider and discuss as many contractual parameters as possible before signing a distribution agreement.

Additional hot topics at the Craft Brewers Conference included new Tax and Trade Bureau funding for enforcement, government regulations of taprooms and brewpubs, off-premise sales, and licenses for short-term out-of-state sales (e.g. for festivals or competitions).  As the craft brewing industry continues to grow in footprint and sophistication, look for business and legal issues to be pushed even further to the forefront of the discussion.

Contact Conkle, Kremer & Engel for assistance with your brewery business or distribution needs.

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The Conkle Firm to Present at 2018 PCPC Legal & Regulatory Conference

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Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorney John A. Conkle will be on the panel opening the 2018 Personal Care Products Council’s Legal & Regulatory Conference.  The panel will present “The State of the States,” which will focus on the increasingly strong interest of state legislatures and state regulatory bodies in addressing issues of importance to the personal care products and cosmetics industries.

States have come to recognize that, with the U.S. Congress largely gridlocked and federal regulatory agencies in a deregulation mood, the path is open for the states to regulate consumer industries in manners that they deem fit.  The result is a continuously evolving patchwork of laws and regulations that can be difficult for industry participants to navigate.

Issues to be discussed at the May 9, 2018 panel presentation include California’s infamous Proposition 65, slack fill laws, and labeling and ingredient disclosure regulations that include even public databases disclosing products’ ingredients found by state governments to be detrimental.  Further, state regulations can include ingredient phase-out requirements and outright bans, volatile organic compound limitations to protect air quality, and even animal testing regulations that can affect industry participants’ ability to compete in international trade.

A lively discussion is inevitable given the rich and topical subject matter and the vital industry interests affected.  The rest of the Legal and Regulatory Conference program should be just as engaging, covering topics such as employment law, cannabis (THC, CBD, marijuana extracts and hemp) in cosmetics and personal care products.  The many other topics to be covered in the three-day conference in Savannah, Georgia can be found in the conference program.

 

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The Conkle Firm to Attend Craft Brewers Conference and BrewExpo America

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Attorneys Evan Pitchford and Zachary Page of Conkle, Kremer & Engel will be attending the 2018 Craft Brewers Conference and BrewExpo America in Nashville, Tennessee from April 30 to May 3.  The Conference, presented by the Brewers Association trade group, is one of the largest craft brewing-centric trade shows in the world, with thousands of industry professionals and exhibitors in attendance annually.

Mr. Pitchford and Mr. Page will attend to take meetings and keep abreast of the latest industry trends, including legal developments, craft brewing distribution and business issues, and evolving beer styles.  Conkle, Kremer & Engel brings its expertise to bear on a number of beer industry-specific issues, such as brand protection and intellectual property, distribution and vendor relations, regulatory issues, advertising and labeling, employment law, and litigation and alternative dispute resolution in state and federal courts.

If you’re an industry professional or craft beer-related business who will be at the Craft Brewers Conference and would like to connect with Mr. Pitchford and Mr. Page before, during, or after the event, please contact them at e.pitchford@conklelaw.com and z.page@conklelaw.com.  They would be happy to arrange initial discussions about particular issues you may be facing.

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