The U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC or Commission) pursues its mission by engaging in three areas related to U.S. international trade:
- Research and analysis; and
- Maintaining the tariff schedule.
The adjudication duties of the ITC are of particular importance to Ocean Tomo and its clients. In connection with those duties, the Commission investigates complaints regarding imports which allegedly harm a domestic industry or violate U.S. intellectual property rights (Section 337 Violations). The ITC provides an alternative to federal district court for patent owners (Complainants) to bring patent infringement matters against alleged infringers (Respondents). While the ITC cannot grant monetary damages, winning at the ITC can provide powerful relief in the form of an injunction. Additionally, ITC investigations are concluded much more quickly than district court actions, with the Commission rendering a final determination within 1.5 years of the filing of the complaint, on average.
In connection with fulfilling its research and analysis duties, the ITC evaluates information on international trade and competitiveness and provides an independent analysis of such data. Ocean Tomo regularly monitors the ITC’s research and analysis to stay informed about this important venue for patent infringement.
In June 2022, the ITC released its report entitled “Shifts in U.S. Merchandise Trade, 2021” (the Trade Report). This Trade Report provides an annual examination of trends in U.S. merchandise trade across several sectors, including Agricultural Products, Chemicals, Electronics, Energy, Footwear, Forest products, Machinery, Minerals and Metals, Textiles and Apparel, and Transportation Equipment.
Not surprisingly, the macroeconomic analysis of the Trade Report acknowledged the substantial economic fluctuations that occurred over the 2019 to 2021 period. The significant decline in economic activity as a result of the global pandemic in 2020 was followed by a sharp increase in economic activity as a result of increased consumer demand. That increased consumer demand, fueled in part by a tight labor market along with continued production and supply chain disruptions, contributed to an inflationary environment beginning in 2021.
The economic fluctuations described above can also be seen in U.S. import data provided within the Trade Report. U.S. imports of merchandise goods declined from approximately $2.54 trillion in 2018 to $2.34 trillion in 2020, with much of the decline occurring in 2020. However, by 2020, imports more than recovered, reaching $2.83 trillion, or an increase of approximately 21.3% over 2020.
U.S. Imports, 2017 to 2021 (in Trillions $)
Through the 2017 to 2021 period, (i) electronic products, (ii) transportation equipment and (iii) chemicals and related products have been the top three categories of imports. For example, in 2021, those three categories made up 20.2%, 15.1% and 13.5% of total imports, respectively, or almost as much as all other categories combined.
U.S. Imports: Top 3 Import Categories 2021
In terms of those top 3 categories, imports of electronic products increased the most, rising from approximately $483 million in 2019 and 2020, to over $572 million by 2021, a greater increase than any other product category.
Change in Imports: Top 3 Categories (million $)
This importation data is entirely consistent with the nature of the adjudication activities taking place at the ITC, as complainants consistently view the Commission as a venue to litigate disputes involving electronic related products. For example, in 2021, 65% of new Section 337 Complaints related to electronic products, including computers, telecommunications, consumer electronics, integrated circuits, televisions, and lighting products. In these markets, as well as others that are the subject of significant importation activity, domestic competitors facing international competition and international competitors importing into the U.S. should understand the nature of the ITC and the available remedies it offers with respect to patent infringement.