“ITC” stands for the federal “International Trade Commission.” Generally speaking, the ITC is a U.S. government agency that deals mostly with imported goods — the “international” part of the ITC name. The broad task of the ITC is to punish “unfair trade practices” by foreign importers. In practice, most of the work done by the ITC involves patent infringement claims. But the ITC also handles claims related to copyright and trademark infringement along with other types of unfair trade and business practices.
Like many federal agencies, the ITC has a civil-litigation forum in which complaints can be filed by individuals and businesses against others for alleged violations of trade practices involving imported goods. The main federal statute involved in ITC proceedings is the Tariff Act of 1930, Section 337. ITC cases can be brought by domestic companies with the main goal of keeping foreign-made products from entering the U.S. But foreign importers can also file ITC cases to preserve their ability to continue importing goods.
ITC proceeding basics
An ITC proceeding has characteristics that are similar to court proceedings. The proceedings are initiated by the filing of a complaint. The party filing is the “Complainant” and the target of the case is called the “Respondent.” Technically speaking, the ITC refers to these cases as “investigations.” Unlike a court proceeding or arbitration, the ITC has the discretionary power to refuse to open an investigation. If the ITC Commissioners vote to start an investigation, the case is assigned to an administrative law judge for resolution. The ITC judge sets the schedule for the case and hears motions filed by the parties. The Respondent has an opportunity to respond in writing to the Complaint, and the parties exchange evidence in a limited amount of discovery per the judge’s order. The staff of the ITC is involved in the process as, sort of, third-party investigators. At some point, the judge will hear evidence in something like a “trial.” Following the hearing (or hearings), the ITC judge will issue an “initial determination” which is often adopted by the full ITC Commission. However, the Commission has the authority to review, modify or reject the judge’s initial determination. Finally, at some point, the ITC Commission will issue a “final determination.” ITC proceedings take place at the ITC’s offices in Washington, D.C.
Speed of ITC proceedings
Compared to other types of litigation, ITC proceedings are resolved quickly. Generally, the ITC seeks to complete every investigation in 16 months or less. The assigned judge sets a “target date” for completing the investigation — which is no later than 16 months after the case was accepted for investigation — and the initial determination is due four months before that target date.
Unlike court and arbitration proceedings, the ITC has no power to make awards of money damages. Despite this, the ITC has very substantial powers and domestic companies can obtain significant relief. The most powerful ITC remedy is the power to issue various forms of exclusion orders. These orders prevent the foreign-made products at issue from entering the U.S. and being sold in the U.S. If the quantity involved is large, this remedy can substantially preserve market share and revenues. Along the same line, the ITC has the authority to seize foreign-made goods which can lead to the destruction of law-violating goods through other proceedings. This might happen with counterfeit goods that are in violation of U.S. trademark laws. The ITC can also issue various forms of cease and desist orders.
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