As the primary U.S. agency responsible for securing America’s borders, the responsibilities of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) also include protecting your intellectual property at the US border. To help guard against the infringement of U.S. patents, copyrights, and trademarks, CBP intercepts counterfeit and pirated goods at the U.S. border, protecting businesses and consumers.

By Stephen Woolverton – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

What are Counterfeit & Pirated Goods?

Counterfeit goods are products that are being made and sold under someone else’s brand without authorization and are often of inferior quality.

  • Counterfeit medicine may be contaminated, contain the wrong ingredient, or no active ingredient at all. Or perhaps it has the right active ingredient but at the wrong dose. Counterfeit drugs are illegal and may be harmful to consumers’ health. These drugs may not work as expected, and some are even contributing to antimicrobial resistance.
  • Counterfeit electronics can overheat due to an improper manufacturing processes.
  • Imitation seasonal holiday lights improperly made can result in fires.
  • Fake bicycle helmets can break upon impact.
  • Phony cosmetics can lead to skin reactions.
  • Counterfeit phone cases may contain excessive levels of lead paint that pose health threats to consumers.

Pirated goods are also reproductions made without authorization of the intellectual property rights (IPR) holder but refer to copyrighted work, such as movies, music, and books.

 Protecting Your Intellectual Property at the US Border

CBP has the legal authority to exclude from entry into the United States products that may be counterfeit or pirated. The steps you can take to protect your intellectual property rights at the US border are:

E-Recordation: Companies can record with CBP trademarks and copyrights registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) or U.S. Copyright Office. E-Recordation makes the intellectual property rights information available at US ports. Product identification guides, produced by the rights owners, are placed on CBP’s internal websites and used to help CBP agents determine whether the product being imported is counterfeit or pirated. Many companies also conduct product identification training to CBP personnel at ports of entry, providing the opportunity for the company to interact directly with the CBP officers and import specialists who will actually inspect shipments and look for intellectual property rights infringements.

E-Allegations:  Businesses and rights owners are encouraged to submit allegations of infringing shipments or conduct to CBP, which uses this information to target products that could be counterfeit or pirated as they arrive at a US port. CBP may also refer cases for criminal investigation.

Information sharing: Contact CBP if you have information about infringing goods being imported into the country. Information submitted through CBP’s online reporting system, e-ALLEGATIONS, is disseminated to the appropriate office or port of entry for investigation. Submissions can be made anonymously.

CBP Response: After detaining the product in question, CBP contacts the actual IPR owner to determine whether the importer of the merchandise has their authorization to import the merchandise. If CBP determines that the merchandise is counterfeit or pirated, the merchandise can be destroyed or excluded from the United States.

In Part II we discuss the exceptions for personal travelers and the rights of an importer to appeal a CBP determination that its merchandise is counterfeit or pirated.


CBP’s Help Desk provides assistance regarding intellectual property rights enforcement and can be contacted at Contact DevelopTradeLaw, LLC for legal advice and support.