The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit today reversed and remanded a summary judgment grant for the government in a case concerning the country-of-origin label on jeans imported into the United States. At issue was whether the “Made in China” labels were subject to a stricter standard or to a more lenient standard because the brand name of the jeans included the term “USA” and was subject to a trademark.
The case is: JBLU, Inc. v. United States, 2015-1509 (Fed. Cir. March 2, 2016). Read the Federal Circuit’s decision [PDF 131 KB]
A U.S. company imported into the United States jeans that were manufactured in China. The jeans were embroidered with a brand name that included “USA” or “Los Angeles” on the back, pocket linings, waistbands, and hangtags of the jeans.
The imported jeans also had small-font labels on the front waistbands indicating that they were “Made in China.” The brand names containing “USA” were more prominent and were of larger font than the “Made in China” labels.
The imports were made between September 11 and October 20, 2010. The company on October 8, 2010, filed a trademark application for the brand of jeans with “USA” in the title.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) determined that the company had violated section 304 of the Tariff Act because the jeans were not conspicuously marked with their country of origin. The company filed protests, asserting that the brand names of the jeans with “USA” or “Los Angeles” were trademarks and that CBP ought to have applied a lenient requirement pursuant to 19 C.F.R. §134.47 (more lenient requirements apply when the location words, letters, or names are part of a trademark or trade name; the country-of-origin marking must then be legible and permanent).
CBP agreed to the more lenient standard, but only for those imports made after the company filed its trademark application. CBP thus found those jeans imported before the trademark application were subject to the more stringent requirements.
The U.S. Court of International Trade essentially agreed with CBP’s interpretation and treatment, and granted the government’s motion for summary judgment.
The Federal Circuit today reversed and remanded the decision of the trade court.
As noted by the appeals court, the trade court had determined that the term “trademark” in §134.47 of the regulations was limited to trademarks that were registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and to trademarks that were subject to a pending registration application. The company disagreed, and asserted that because the term “trademark” in the regulations was ambiguous, it also must include federally registered and common law trademarks.
The Federal Circuit found that the term “trademark” in the regulations “unambiguously includes trademarks without a pending application” and therefore agreed with the company’s contention. The Federal Circuit concluded the decision by noting that CBP had found that the “Made in China” labels on certain entries of the imported jeans had satisfied the requirements of §134.47.
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