On March 8, the Vancouver Sun reported that Louis Vuitton Canada, Inc. and Burberry Canada are seeking more than $2 million in fees and damages (which would be the largest award in Canadian history) against Singga Enterprises, Altec Productions, and a Vancouver store owner for selling knock-off goods in Canada. The lawsuit was filed after two years of private investigation by the fashion houses revealed that that Singga and Altec were running a large-scale counterfeiting operation which involved manufacturing large quantities of counterfeit products in China and importing them for sale throughout Canada and online.
Holy Hockey Sticks… This is actually nothing new, Canada has traditionally been a safe-haven for importing counterfeits due to lax IP laws and weak border protections – they just aren’t tending goal. Customs officers in Canada have very little authority to “stop the puck.” Officials are only permitted to proactively seize goods being imported if one of two situations exists: either if the intellectual property rights owner obtains a prior court order or if the seizure is requested by the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) in connection with an ongoing criminal investigation. Officers are only allowed to look for hidden or undeclared goods; so if counterfeit imports are declared, they cannot be prevented from entering Canada.
Canada has made some recent attempts to improve their own IP laws to combat counterfeiting crimes… AND it is “aboot” time! In December 2010, Canadian Parliament passed C-36, the Consumer Products Safety Act, with the purpose of public protection. Provisions include a prohibition against labeling creating an erroneous impression as to the safety of the product and a prohibition against misused certification marks. The Act also imposes criminal liability for violations. C-32, An Act to Amend the Copyright Act, was also introduced in 2010 and, among others, included provisions that would potentially impose liability on Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and prohibit circumvention of “technical protection measures.” Unfortunately, with last week’s announcement of a dissolution of parliament pending a Canadian general election on May 2, 2011, the bill is as dead as a moose during hunting season.
In addition to the national efforts to “freeze-out” counterfeiters, Canada is also a party to the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), which is a controversial plurilateral agreement aiming to increase and harmonize international IP laws among the signatories (including the U.S. – See the USTR fact sheet HERE & request for public comments HERE) and the EU. The text of the final proposed ACTA is available on the United States Trade Representatives website. Critics of the agreement claim that the act favors rights-holders with provisions calling for increased enforcement of all intellectual property rights, urging the usage of government resources to enforce rights held by private companies instead of allowing private companies to protect those rights through civil litigation (See a criticism of ACTA published by American University HERE).
Eh, Canada, you might have try a little harder to keep the peace… we may need a Zamboni to smooth this one over!