Back in the day, critics bemoaned Bic lighters as symbols of disposable culture. Yet the inexpensive, disposable lighters were a big hit upon their introduction in the 1970s and remain popular today.

That popularity is undoubtedly the motivation behind the flow of Chinese counterfeit pocket lighters into the U.S.

A win in the IP protection fight

Bic Corp. recently scored a win in its fight to protect its intellectual property by obtaining a general exclusion order from the United States International Trade Commission (USITC).

The French company’s fight to protect its intellectual property began nearly two years ago, when it filed trademark infringement claims against counterfeiters and their U.S. distributors with both the USITC and the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

Three big reasons for protecting their IP

Bic’s complaints were filed for a trio of reasons:

  • Keep out: to stop counterfeiters from bringing knock-off lighters into the U.S.
  • Buzz: to generate media coverage of intellectual property theft.
  • Protection: because they’re dangerous, the counterfeit lighters threaten buyer safety and Bic’s reputation.

Three months after Bic filed its complaint, the USITC investigated trademark violation allegations against several Chinese companies.

Why the exclusion order’s important

The USITC inquiry resulted in the exclusion order that prevents the two named Chinese manufacturers and a U.S. import company from bringing knock-off Bic lighters into the country. More importantly, however: the order can apply to any company anywhere that tries to import or sell imitation Bic lighters in the U.S. The order is to be enforced by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

“This is a big deal,” said an attorney for Bic. “The remedy that we achieved pertains to every person and company. It’s huge.”

Lending a hand

Of course, Customs’ and border agents’ responsibilities go beyond USITC order enforcement, so Bic is helping to police the order by monitoring e-commerce platforms and alerting authorities to potential violations.

Their efforts have paid off: they’ve identified nearly 20,000 illegal sellers on e-commerce platforms. In addition, Bic has settled with a defendant company for an undisclosed amount and an agreement that the firm would alter the design of its lighters.