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US Customs: A limit on innovation and competition?

Posting in Technology

Does the border agency's battle to keep the country safe have a negative impact on business?

Even after judges rule otherwise, some companies find that importing their goods to the U.S. can be an impossible task -- or items that should have been banned go through. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, otherwise known for preventing the intrusion of illegal immigrants, terrorists and drugs, has found itself under scrutiny as patent law and disputes continue worldwide.

The U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) would like to see Customs take on the role of policing disputed exports, but there are no clear rules to this effect. One of Custom's missions is to "police imports," but in reality, keeping up with patent disputes and which imports are restricted is a mission in itself -- and perhaps warrants a separate department altogether.

There is an escalating number of complaints which seek to ban imports of products, mainly focused around digital and mobile gadgets. According to the ITC, cases have risen 530 percent since 2000, something which can not only impact competition and sales if complaints prove without evidence, but also frustrate suppliers who find themselves at the receiving end of communication breakdowns.

In an ideal world, perhaps the agency would be able to fulfil both roles. However, in reality, complex technology and a saturated market for gadgets can make identifying restricted exports difficult.

Apple, for example, accused rival HTC of misleading Customs into permitting disputed phone models into the country. The smartphones allegedly contained a feature that infringed an Apple patent, but the accusation was later quashed -- after being delayed by Customs.

Whether Customs is able to act on the grounds of safety as well as representing the commission remains to be seen, although asking them to be able to keep up with quick turnarounds of potentially patent-abusing products and miscellaneous items may be a step too far -- and could prove an additional hinderance at the border.

Via: Bloomberg

Image credit: Johan Larsson

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— By on March 26, 2013, 2:16 AM PST

Charlie Osborne

Contributing Editor

Charlie Osborne is a freelance journalist and photographer based in London. In addition to SmartPlanet, she also writes for business technology website ZDNet and consumer technology site CNET. She holds a degree in medical anthropology from the University of Kent. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure