Is it Illegal to Buy or  Sell Knockoffs or Counterfeit Items?

You may have seen fake goods at one time or another. You might even have unknowingly purchased one, only to discover later on that it was not the authentic one and the unbeatable price was too good to be true.

With increased globalization spreading the manufacturing and sale of goods throughout the world and with the appeal of cheaper prices, counterfeiting has become a booming industry and it is not expected to be curtailed in the near future. This is a glaring reality in the United States which has one of the largest markets for consumer goods. In 2013, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as reportedly confiscated over $1.7 billion in counterfeit goods, and those do not include goods that were not yet discovered. Every year, millions of Americans go to warehouses and stores, usually found in ethnic ghettos of large cities, to buy counterfeit or knockoff designer goods. They may even buy online and at flea markets or street bazaars. No matter where the purchase was made, the question remains to be seen on how legal these transactions were, especially if you were fully aware that the product you were buying was a counterfeit of a trademarked and copyrighted work: Is this legal?

Consulting an experienced trademark attorney is your best in case the brand you are carrying is reported as counterfeit. You may not have been aware that there has already been a brand, very similar to yours that was already trademarked.

What is the difference between knockoffs and counterfeit goods?

It is crucial to be aware of the differences between a counterfeit and a knockoff product. Although the phrases “counterfeit” and “knockoff” are often used synonymously, they are actually different. The main difference is the inclusion of a registered trademark.

  • Knockoffs are cheap imitations.

A knockoff just copies the design of another product but do not have the manufacturer’s markings or exact design, logos, or registered brand names. It just closely resembles the authentic product. Most commonly imitated are electronics. A favorite is Apple products, with a number of items that closely resemble Apple’s iPhone or Ipad,  but usually, do not have the trademark and most of the features of the original product. Knockoffs may also have a misspelling of a brand name. So instead of Ipad, you see Iped. Instead of Prada, you see Prado.

  • Counterfeits are very close to the real deal.

A counterfeit product, on the other hand, uses a brand name or logo that is identical or nearly identical to a registered trademark, which is illegal under trademark law. Counterfeits are items that are outright replicas of a brand’s labels or trademark symbols. They are designed to closely resemble the original product to the extent that it is pretty much identical. This goes without saying that counterfeits intend to perpetrate a fraud upon consumers. Designer leathergoods are the most commonly counterfeited item. The unsuspecting shopper may not be able to distinguish the real from the fake unless they are aware of the manufacturer’s markings.

Therefore, as a consumer, if you are concerned that what you are buying may not be the real thing, the best rule of thumb is to use common sense. Do not be easy prey. Usually, the counterfeit items are priced much lower than the real thing. Better yet,  buy from a brand’s authorized dealer.

Contact a Washington D.C. Trademark Attorney

If you believe that you have been sold counterfeit goods, if you have been accused of trading in counterfeit items, or your brand was used by counterfeiters, it is best to contact a trademark attorney who can assist you with your legal questions. Experienced Washington D.C. trademark attorneys may be found at War IP Law. Call us for an initial case evaluation.