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Counterfeit goods and liability of freight forwarders

To what extent are freight forwarders in Singapore liable for handling transshipped "counterfeit" goods? This novel legal issue was up for appeal in Singapore earlier this year.

Singapore customs seized two 40ft containers with FAKE bags, shoes, belts and other fashion accessories made in China. These containers arrived in Singapore for onward shipment to Indonesia. Seaway bills mentioned a freight forwarder (FF) based in Singapore as the consignee and goods were described as household goods. Transshipment of the container did not require FF to physically interact with the container at any stage, but only that necessary declarations are made in the PSA’s portnet system.

Burberry & Louis Vuitton commenced infringement of trade mark actions against FF. The court concluded that FF, who tend to have only transitory control and lack actual knowledge of the contents of sealed containers, are in no position to examine the goods. The determining factor in whether there has been an infringement is the intention to import or export. If a party knowingly facilitates counterfeit goods to be brought into Singapore, it would be an infringement of TMA, but In this case the freight forwarder was unaware that goods were fake and hence not liable.

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