Customs seizures and penalties

Protecting intellectual property rights

Intellectual Property (IP) rights are protected and customs officers can help you if you suspect your rights are being infringed.

IP rights such as copyright, trade marks or designs are protected under European law. Goods that infringe IP laws include:

  • counterfeit or pirated goods
  • goods that infringe patents
  • plants that infringe national or community plant variety regulations
  • goods that infringe geographical labelling regulations

HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) will act for UK traders who suspect their business identity or products are being abused by the import of bogus goods.

If you suspect that goods are infringing your IP rights, you can request that HMRC take action to detain the goods when entry into the European Union (EU) or export from the EU is attempted. You must inform HMRC and provide a description of the goods that is accurate enough to enable the goods to be intercepted. You must also be able to show that you hold the IP rights that you think are being infringed. To advise HMRC of a suspected copyright infringement in the UK, complete the National Form (Intellectual Property Rights Application). Action at the frontier will be carried out by officers of the UK Border Agency (UKBA).

If you are an EU IP holder and you think an infringement is taking place in two or more member states, you should tell HMRC using the Community Form (Community Intellectual Property Rights Application).

Find the EU and national application forms.

If the UKBA detects suspect goods, it will detain them for ten working days and inform the IP right holder or their nominated representative of the detention and will provide details of the consignment including in most cases a representative sample. Before expiry of the ten working days the right holder must decide on the status of the goods and if applicable take the appropriate steps leading up to their removal from the market. Except in the case of perishable goods, for which the total detention time is three working days, an extension of a further ten working days may be requested.

Within the period set out above the right holder must either reach an agreement with the owner to abandon the goods or initiate court proceedings to determine their IP status. If upon expiry of the period there is no agreement to abandon or proceedings have not been initiated the goods are liable to release.

You must keep HMRC informed about the referral and any decision by the court so that the goods can be dealt with in line with any court order. If you reach an agreement the case officer will treat the goods as abandoned and arrange for their destruction.

Under normal circumstances goods will be destroyed by HMRC or UKBA but at the request of the right holder the goods may be used for training or educational purposes or upon removal of any trademark may be donated to charity. The right holder is liable for the cost of destruction.

Read more about intellectual property protection overseas.