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Parliament clarifies rules on customs handling of counterfeit or pirated goods

Rules on how customs officials confiscate, store and destroy imports of counterfeit or pirated goods that infringe intellectual property rights were clarified by Parliament in a vote on Tuesday.

Imports that infringe intellectual property rights (IPRs) are a growing problem in the EU, due in particular to the rising volume of goods bought by EU citizens on line and shipped to them by post from countries outside the EU.  Customs confiscations of counterfeit and pirated goods almost doubled between 2009 and 2010, and these goods cost European businesses about €250 billion in lost sales each year.

"Customs officials placed on the EU's external borders are in a comparatively good position to stop infringing goods before they enter the internal market", said Parliament's rapporteur Jürgen Creutzmann (ALDE, DE), in the debate preceding the vote.

The draft regulation on Customs Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights aims to make customs procedures more effective by laying down clear rules on the storage of infringing goods, who should bear the burden of proving that they infringe IPRs, and who should pay the costs of destroying them. It does not, however, change the rules defining an "IPR infringement".

Small consignments

Preliminary figures for 2010 show a 200% increase in small postal consignments confiscated by customs. The draft regulation introduces a simplified procedure to allow small consignments of suspected counterfeit or pirated goods to be destroyed sooner.

Parliament amended the proposal to ensure that the person who would have received the goods has 5 days in which to object to their destruction and that buyers who bought them in good faith do not also have to pay the cost of destroying them.

The Commission proposal does not define "small consignments". Parliament says it should mean 3 items or less, together weighing less than 2 kgs and contained in one package. Goods of a non-commercial nature contained in a travellers' personal luggage should be excluded from the scope of the regulation, MEPs add.

Generic medicines

The regulation also aims to clarify and strengthen rules on generic medicines in transit through the EU. The text stresses that customs authorities must abide by the EU's international commitments to ensure that these medicines are not delayed or confiscated unless there is "clear and convincing evidence that they are intended for sale in the Union". The S&D, Greens and GUE however, would have liked generic medicines to have been exempted altogether and so voted against the regulation as a whole.

The resolution was adopted with 397 votes in favour, 259 against and 26 abstentions.

Next steps

The outcome of the plenary vote will serve as Parliament's position in negotiations with the Council for  a possible second reading agreement.

Further information

The State of the State