NAPLES, FLORIDA. On the eve of the biggest day of the year for fresh cut roses, the E.G. Hill Company and Hills Floral Group, the largest floral distributor in the United States, working with the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, announced an unprecedented seizure of counterfeit roses - the quantity and product is believed to be a first in the history of U.S. Customs seizures. The seizure took place during the last critical shipping days before Valentine’s Day.

    The illegal shipments were successfully intercepted as they made their way from the countries of Colombia and Ecuador headed to consumers in the United States via the port of Miami. The roses were illegally grown and illegally shipped to the United States in violation of E.G. Hill Company’s nationally and internationally protected intellectual property rights.

    Hills has been serving the Floral industry since 1881, employing nearly 700 employees and operating in 26 states. As rose breeders, Hills has introduced some of the most widely acclaimed roses ever marketed in the U.S. and abroad. E.G. Hill Company’s General Agent, John Dolan said, "The vast majority of our growers are careful to play by the rules. Here, a few growers didn’t. Hills moved quickly to protect its valued licensed growers worldwide. The result was huge, and the seizure was historic."

    E.G. Hill Company’s intellectual property rights supporting the seizure are administered by Royalty Administration International®, also known as RAI®. RAI is the world’s leader in providing comprehensive services to plant breeders in the areas of intellectual property rights administration, procurement, management, and enforcement.

    RAI is the largest administrative body of its kind in the world, with offices in North America, South America, Europe, and Africa. RAI’s expertise in the field of verification and quantification of illegal plant breeding, growing and counterfeit shipments is unequaled by any other company in the world. Through the work of Hills and RAI, the illegal plant product was able to be discovered and precisely identified so that a legal case could be made to Customs.

    RAI’s worldwide Director, Maarten Leune, credits the painstaking investigative work of RAI’s South American office with providing solid intelligence information for the operation. "Our offices worldwide pulled together and helped U.S. Customs and the legal team turn good information into real results" said Leune.

    While all involved in the effort were delighted with the result, RAI was careful to caution that seizure operations will continue in the future and illegal growers should expect to risk interception in the coming days and months. His message for those who deal in illegal plants? "Expect a revolution. Our efforts are ongoing and underway even now."

    Attorney Jennifer Whitelaw of the intellectual property firm Whitelaw Legal Group, Naples, Florida, headed up the legal effort representing E.G. Hill Company and Hills Floral Group. Whitelaw is ranked as one of the top trademark attorneys in the United States.  She presented the case to Customs and worked with the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs throughout the successful operation. "The message to these illegal growers is that counterfeiting does not pay. If you place counterfeit plant product into the stream of commerce, we will make every effort to intercept that product."

    "The cooperation of U.S. Customs and all of the excellent people working there show the entire world that stopping the flow of illegal products can be quick, immediate and completely successful.  It does not always require lengthy and expensive litigation.  This U.S. Customs operation succeeded in a matter of days, and made history in the process. All of the people working on this at U.S. Customs and the Department of Homeland Security are the heroes here."  Whitelaw said.

    Peter Quinter is the Partner in Charge of the Customs and International Trade Department at the law firm of Becker & Poliakoff, P.A., based in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Mr. Quinter is one of the nation’s leading experts in Customs matters, and also represented Hill in the matter. He called the operation, "one for the record books".

    "We are quite pleased that no lawful grower was affected." Whitelaw added. "Lawful growers should also take note of the power of branding. They should do whatever it takes to ensure that the correct brand is prominently placed on their lawful grown products. This helps us win in the fight against counterfeiting, as we did here for the Valentine’s Day operation." Whitelaw said.

    U.S. Customs reported a large number of shipments were seized, with the operation still ongoing. "And we're still looking," said Jeffrey Baldwin, port director for U.S. Customs and Border Patrol at Miami International Airport.  "We want to make sure," Baldwin said, "that we gear up for the future holidays: Easter and Mother's Day."

    Hills believes this is a victory for all lawful growers of the well-known Hills brands. "When someone decides to break the law, whether here in the states or in other countries, Hills is showing its valued growers that it can and will move quickly to stop the illegal activity" said Hills’ Dolan.

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