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Can I Label it "Made in USA?" or "Made in NYC?"

I get this question all the time. In fact, I got it last week. As the face of a "Made in NYC" enterprise, I understand the interest in claiming origin. Both the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and US Customs however, have distinct rules governing country of origin marking, and qualifying claims of US origin, on both domestic and foreign products.

The FTC’s focus is with regards to the labeling and advertising of products making claims of US origin. This is because the FTC is charged with preventing deception and unfairness in the marketplace. It therefore has the power to bring law enforcement actions against false or misleading claims that a product is of U.S. origin. Naturally, where a product is being imported and it’s labeled “Made in USA,” it is likely going to raise some eyebrows without further explanation.

Traditionally, the FTC has required that a product labeled or advertised as Made in USA be "all or virtually all" made in the U.S. While this is not clearly defined, the thrust of this rule is that the product itself is comprised of components that are of US origin, or virtually all of US origin.

US Customs' interest in marking however, has to do with consumer preferences. According to a case from 1940, the intention behind the marking law was "that the ultimate purchaser should be able to know by an inspection of the marking on the imported goods the country of which the goods is the product. The evident purpose is to mark the goods so that at the time of purchase the ultimate purchaser may, by knowing where the goods were produced, be able to buy or refuse to buy them, if such marking should influence his will."

US Customs, on the other hand, does not require any marking of Made in the USA when a product is of US origin. Where this issue typically arises however, is in the case of an article whose components are of US origin but for which the final product is “assembled” in another country.

US Customs has held that where the word “assembled” is used in conjunction with the origin statement to supply additional information, it has been found acceptable provided the additional information about where the watch was assembled was (1) not false or misleading, (2) appeared in close proximity to, and (3) was in a comparable font size to, the country of origin marking.

One point to note is that the FTCs rules tend to be more prohibitive than that of US Customs, so when in doubt, consult with the agency itself, such as at the FTC webpage entitled “Complying With the Made in USA Standard" or your attorney.

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