Is Buying Counterfeit Goods a Federal Crime?

 Posted on August 22, 2019 in Fraud

Illionois defense attorney,  Illinois criminal defense lawyerMaybe you picked up some designer bags from a street vendor that you knew were not really designer. Or, maybe someone was selling a watch you knew was not actually a Rolex. Sometimes the temptation is too great. These counterfeit products look very similar to the real thing, and they come at such an affordable price. However, if you buy them, are you breaking federal law?

Defining Counterfeit Goods

Legally speaking, counterfeit goods are products that are of inferior quality and sold under another company’s trademark. Trademarks are typically the logos company use and attach to their products to identify it as being from a certain brand. The purpose of a trademark is to protect a company’s reputation and make it easier for customers to distinguish one brand from another in the marketplace.

Trademarks do not expire. A company simply has to register the trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Once they do this, they own that trademark for life. After a trademark is registered, only that company can use the trademark. Others are prohibited from using it, even if it is slightly altered. If an invalid logo could confuse customers or trick them into thinking it was the actual product, using it is illegal.

Nearly every industry struggles with counterfeit goods. Industries that see the most counterfeit goods include:

  • Clothing and apparel
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Electronics, particularly cell phones and computers
  • Toys
  • Baby formula or other baby food
  • Automotive parts

There is a difference between counterfeit goods and “knock offs.” Knock offs may look similar to another product, but do not contain a logo. This does not violate another company’s trademark and so, buying and selling knock offs are not against the law.

Buying Counterfeit Goods

18 U.S. Code Section 2320 states it is illegal to traffic in counterfeit goods. Under this section of the Code, it is a violation of the law to produce, sell, or transport counterfeit goods. Under this law, it is illegal to purchase counterfeit goods. However, the U.S. Department of Justice views counterfeit goods differently. This agency states it is not a crime to purchase counterfeit goods, even if the consumer knew the goods were infringing on a trademark. This can provide a solid defense for those accused, although whether the defense is a success or not will depend on many factors.

When this defense is not successful, those convicted of trafficking in counterfeit goods face harsh penalties. A first offense carries a maximum sentence of ten years in federal prison and a $2 million fine. Those convicted of a second offense face up to 20 years in federal prison and a $5 million fine.

Were You Accused of Trafficking Counterfeit Goods? Call an Illinois Federal Criminal Defense Attorney

If you have been charged with trafficking in counterfeit goods, you are likely very worried. Many times consumers do not know that goods were counterfeit, but this does not always provide a legal defense. At the Law Offices of Hal M. Garfinkel, our dedicated Chicago federal criminal defense attorney knows how to successfully defend cases. Attorney Garfinkel will ensure your rights are upheld at all times and aggressively argue your case to give you the best chance of a successful outcome. Call us today at 312-629-0669 or contact us online to schedule your free consultation.


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