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Intellectual Property Rights

Federal agencies warn against counterfeit decorative contact lenses

WASHINGTON — With Halloween approaching, officials are warning the public about the dangers associated with counterfeit decorative contact lenses. The Food and Drug Administration's Office of Criminal Investigations, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are working together to seize illegal and harmful versions of correctable vision lenses and decorative or color contact lenses that are illegally imported and distributed throughout the United States.

"This is another example of organized criminals trying to make a buck with no regard for the health and safety of the public," said ICE Director John Morton. "Consumers need to be smart and vigilant. Saving a few dollars is certainly not worth playing roulette with your eyesight."

Many people are unaware that it is illegal to purchase or sell contact lenses of any kind without a prescription from an ophthalmologist, optometrist or a specially licensed optician under the supervision of an eye doctor. In 2010, the worldwide contact lens market was estimated to be $11.7 billion while the U.S. market was believed to be $2.1 billion. Decorative and colored lenses are becoming an increasingly larger percentage of the market and elaborate Halloween costumes are one of the most popular reasons.

Decorative contact lenses can typically be ordered at the office that conducts the eye exam and contact lens fitting. The Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act gives the consumers the right to obtain a copy of their contact lens prescription, allowing them to fill that prescription at the business of their choice, including online discount sites. Various legitimate stores and websites sell decorative lenses but consumers should avoid buying these lenses from anywhere that does not require a valid prescription.

"A valid prescription helps ensure consumers get contact lenses that are determined to be safe and effective by FDA," said John Roth, director, FDA's Office of Criminal Investigations. "Without it, people can risk serious eye injuries for one night of fun."

Recently, the FDA/OCI, CBP and HSI have begun collaboration to counter the threat of counterfeit contact lenses throughout the country. Working with the ICE-led National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center), HSI and CBP have already made several large seizures and the cases are ongoing.

"There is nothing fun about counterfeit products especially when they are a threat to the health and safety of the American people," said U.S. Customs and Border Protection Deputy Commissioner David V. Aguilar. "CBP protects the nation from harmful products like counterfeit contact lenses by interdicting them before they can arrive at your local store, allowing Halloween festivities to be enjoyed safely."

The FBI and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service – both partners at the IPR Center – are also contributing to this operation to further identify the entities that are counterfeiting, misbranding and adulterating these products, their exposure to trademark infringement and misrepresentation, and the means by which they are illegally importing, distributing and selling these defective health products.

For more information about safety tips and locations to buy legitimate and safe contact lenses, consumers are encouraged to visit the FDA's website at http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm275069.htm.

The IPR Center is one of the U.S. government's key weapons in the fight against criminal counterfeiting, piracy and commercial fraud. As a task force, the IPR Center uses the expertise of its 21 member agencies to share information, develop initiatives, coordinate enforcement actions and conduct investigations related to IP theft and commercial fraud. Through this strategic interagency partnership, the IPR Center protects the public's health and safety, the U.S. economy and our war fighters. For more information on the IPR Center please visit www.IPRCenter.gov.