The U.S. International Trade Commission is investigating at least a half dozen domestic and foreign companies accused of making or distributing counterfeit pocket lighters that are exported from China into America.
Bic Corp., a French company with a North American headquarters in Shelton, Connecticut, sparked the probe when it filed a complaint with the USITC in December, according to an announcement earlier this month from the federal agency.
The USITC voted to grant BIC’s request for an investigation without making any decision on the merits of the case, which will be assigned to a USITC administrative law judge. The judge will hold an evidence hearing and make an initial determination as to whether there are trademark violations under §337 of the Tariff Act of 1930.
BIC, which is seeking to keep the alleged imitation lighters out of the U.S., has asked that the USITC issue a general exclusion order or a limited order and cease and desist orders after it completes the investigation. Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe represents BIC.
The USITC action comes after BIC filed a pair of trademark infringement complaints against the alleged Chinese counterfeiters and their stateside distributors before the USITC in Washington, D.C., and the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn in December.
BIC’s factory in Connecticut produces about 1 million lighters a day, while one of the companies named in the probe, Arrow Lighter Inc. and its affiliates, has stated on its website that it has the capacity to make 700 million lighters a year. Arrow Lighter describes itself as one of the world’s largest manufacturers and distributors of lighters. The company says on its LinkedIn page that it has been importing lighters from factories in China for two decades.
An attempt to speak with a representative for Arrow Lighter was unsuccessful and the company does not appear to have an attorney of record. Arrow does business as MK Lighter Inc. and MK Lighter Co. of City of Industry, California, according to the USITC.
BIC general counsel and vice president Steve Burkhart could not be reached for comment. But he said in an earlier interview that he’s “seen the proliferation of one thing after another of counterfeit products entering the American marketplace.”
Burkhart asserted that BIC took legal action not only as part of an effort to keep the lighters in question out of the country but also to draw attention to the issue of intellectual property theft. He added the lighters in question are dangerous and had failed a series of standard safety tests.
The USITC also is investigating Benxi Fenghe Lighter Co. Ltd. of China; Excel Wholesale Distributors Inc. of College Point, New York; Milan Import Export Co. of San Diego, California; Wellpine Company Ltd. of Hong Kong; and Zhuoye Lighter Manufacturing Co. Ltd. of China.
BIC accuses the defendants of trademark infringement, trademark dilution, unfair competition, deceptive practices, false advertising and committing unlawful acts, including unlicensed importation.