Criminal proceedings and customs searches


Jens Künzel

Every two years, the world’s largest trade fair for sanitary goods takes place in Frankfurt am Main, Germany.

This trade fair (the International Trade Fair for Sanitary Wares—ISH) is not only known for its importance to the business sector concerned; it also happens to be a place where criminal prosecutors and customs officials take probes and detain lots of goods on the grounds of suspicion that an IP right (primarily a patent or design right) is infringed. This is a good opportunity to turn briefly to criminal prosecution and the activities of the customs authorities apart from border controls.

In Germany and all other European countries, IP infringements regularly are also criminal offences. In addition, German law treats patent or design infringements as criminal offences against customs laws if these products have been brought into Germany under violation of existing laws. That is advantageous to IP owners because they can ask customs authorities (Customs Investigation, Mobile Customs Police) to investigate such criminal offences in relation to, for example, trade fairs.

That has recently led to some very successful customs ‘campaigns’, such as at the ISH in Frankfurt am Main in March 2011, where an entire hall was ‘scanned’ by officers, IP owners and lawyers for design and patent infringements, and other fairs such as the Ambiente and Paper World fairs. All ‘suspicious’ products were taken away from the stands as part of investigations of customs law offences. They were stored somewhere else and could not be shown anymore at the trade fair.