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The passive and active mode of China Customs in intellectual property right protection

by David Chen

For those who outsource the manufacturing of their products to China, there is a daunting worry. What if the manufacturers, without the permission, ship the products and become their competitors? What if some other factories copy the products? This issue becomes even more harmful if the brand or design owner’s products become popular in the market and run in the most beneficial period of the product life cycle.

Sourcing from reputable manufacturer is undoubtedly the first step in your IPR strategy as they would tend to refrain from acting against the agreement.

The most important official resource to leverage is China Customs’ IPR protection measures. It is called the “border measures”.

This measures has two modes, the active mode and the passive mode.

If suspiciously infringing import or export activity is about to take place at the border, the holder of the IPR can report to the Customs. The Customs may carry out seizures on the goods being imported or exported. However the premise of this type of seizes is dependant on the filing with the court of law, which means that prior to the seizures, the holder of the IPR must sue the infringing company. In this scenario, the Customs is taking the border measures in the Passive Mode.

According to the rules of China Customs, holders of IPR who meet the below criteria can file their rights and property information with the Customs so as to enable the Customs to protect their right in the Active Mode.

  • Holder of trade mark registered with the State Administration for Industry and Commerce of China
  • Holder of trade mark registered with the World Intellectual Property Organization designating China as within the cover of protection
  • Patents granted by the IP Bureau of China
  • Holder of copyrights of literature

In the Active Mode, the China Customs can be proactively seize suspicious cargoes according to the information filed with them, in addition to the holder’s self conducted investigation.

It is a important tool for IPR protection for companies sourcing from China.

Visit the website of China Customs www.customs.gov.cn for more information.


David Chen is the co-founder and account manager at Sourcing Spectrum, a sourcing agency dedicated to helping overseas clients manage sources in China. Tips and information can be found at www.sourcingspectrum.com/blog.

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