Italian Customs has recently implemented a number of improvements that, if properly exploited, may be helpful in rendering Customs surveillance more effective, particularly in the enforcement of patent rights.

Statistics show that Customs officers are mainly involved with border detentions of copies of famous brands (eg, in the fashion industry), that are easy to recognise, whereas more hardly are put in the condition to efficiently detect goods infringing patent rights, whose identification requires adequate preparation and technical information. Although the application submitted by rights holders to the Italian Central Customs Agency is accompanied with all information required to identify relevant goods, in practice said information may not always be available to local officers at the Customs peripheral units who are engaged in the daily controls of imported goods.

The Italian Central Customs Agency has implemented a state-of-the-art multimedia database called FALSTAFF, which is integrated with the Italian Customs IT system, AIDA, to store information on goods suspected of infringing IP rights. This database is interactive and can be directly updated by rights holders that have applied for Customs measures (or their local counsels / representatives). The rights holder generates a form in the database and inputs all technical information and details to identify products suspected of infringement. FALSTAFF should also allow Customs officers real-time screening of all import and export declarations submitted.

These improvements are particularly relevant for monitoring programs primarily focused on patent rights, where infringing goods cannot immediately be identified visually (unlike most counterfeit branded goods). In other words, save for cases of blatant counterfeits, in case of suspect of infringement of patent rights Customs officers have no choice but to halt batches and request a representative from the rights holder to confirm whether the goods are infringing. The new FALSTAFF system should allow officers to see a clearer history of an item's shipping documentation (eg, bills of lading and packing list) submitted by importers in order to pick out the categories of goods that must be systematically halted and checked by the rights holder.

For monitoring programs focused on patents it is also crucial that rights holders invest specific resources in order to provide adequate technical knowledge to Customs officers, at least at targeted local units like those located at major Italian harbours or other areas which may be known for being most likely routes of infringement.

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