Customs regulation to be interpreted in favor of right-holders: Customs authorities can, on their own initiative, proceed with a customs seizure

Symbole copyrightThe European Court of Justice rendered a preliminary ruling on April 9, 2014 in favor of right-holders with regards to customs regulation (CE) No. 1383/2003 and particularly the implementation of customs seizures (C-583/12, Sintax Trading OÜ / Maksu-ja Tolliamet).

In the present case, the Estonian authorities refused to release bottles of mouthwash imported from the Ukraine on the grounds that they infringed a patent registered under the name of the company Acerra. The latter did not comply to “the procedure to determine whether an intellectual property right has been infringed under national law” (article 3 paragraph 1 of regulation (EC) No 1383/2003. However, the proceedings were initiated by the Estonian customs authorities alone.

Does it therefore mean that, under the customs regulation, customs authorities can proceed, on their own initiative, with a customs seizure without the intervention of right-holders?

The European Court of Justice replied in the affirmative. It specified that the regulation does not seek “only to protect private rights and interests but also to protect public interests.” Indeed, one of the goals of the regulation is to prevent the placing on the market of goods which deceive the consumers and endanger their health and safety. Therefore, customs authorities can act on their own initiative, without any intervention by right-holders, in relation to legal actions designed to establish the infringement of intellectual property rights.

Furthermore, Regulation (EC) No 1383/2003 was repealed and replaced by Regulation (EU) No 608/2013 of June 12, 2013 regarding customs enforcement of intellectual property rights. The Court’s ruling applies in relation to the new regulation.

This ruling of the Court in favor of the right-holders is  greatly welcomed. In the event of an omission on their part, customs authorities can always proceed with a customs seizure to protect and defend their rights.