In today's home furnishings marketplace, the importation of goods is a reality that every manufacturer deals with whether they import or not. The importers are often blamed for bringing infringing goods into this country (a reputation that is not altogether undeserved). For manufacturers or importers, it is important to remember that proceedings before the International Trade Commission ("ITC") are an important tool to stopping infringing items from ever entering this country.
ITC proceedings are instigated in Washington, D.C. by the holder of intellectual property rights. The ITC has jurisdiction under Section 337 of the Tariff Act of 1930 to investigate claims that imported goods are infringing U.S. patents, trademarks, or copyrights or otherwise constitutes unfair competition. ITC proceedings can result in an exclusion order that prevents infringing goods from entering the country. ITC proceedings are often faster than traditional litigation in the federal district courts and require some additional work up front to ensure the petitioner's case moves smoothly.
Home furnishings lend themselves to protection under several different forms of intellectual property, including design patents, trade dress, and copyright. Recently, Twin Star International, Inc. received a limited exclusion order banning the importation of certain electric fireplaces that violate Twin Star's copyright and trade secrets. The infringing products violated the copyright on an electric fireplace insert and the contents of their manuals. The action successfully stopped two Chinese manufacturers from importing infringing goods into the U.S.
There are many considerations that go into whether to institute an ITC proceeding or traditional district court action. The plaintiff needs to consider the source of the infringing product, its distribution within the U.S., the urgency of obtaining injunctive relief, whether U.S. district courts would have jurisdiction over foreign entities, and costs. However, it's a powerful tool that right holders should consider when faced with the importation of infringing goods.