In the 1970s, a small pink purse was the first product to bear the name and image of Hello Kitty. The figure was invented by the Japanese designer Yuko Shimizu in 1973 and appeared on the Japanese market in the 1970s. Toy products quickly followed in the United States and other countries worldwide. Nowadays, the name Hello Kitty is linked to millions of products – from towels and watches to carpets and posters.
Sanrio, the Japanese company behind Hello Kitty, grants licences to companies all over the world to use the name and image of the girl with the pink bow around her ear. The market is simultaneously being flooded with counterfeit products, explains Noëlle Wolfs of V.O., which represents Sanrio for the trademarks in the Benelux. ‘To keep the trademark licence-worthy, action must be taken against the counterfeit products. Otherwise licence holders will start to ask themselves why they should pay for them. That is why Sanrio is so active in customs-related matters, among other things.’
Customs have a system for tracing infringement of trademarks and designs. If customs find suspect shipments at airports or in ports, the trademark holder (or the office looking after their interests) is notified of this. Photographic materials are used to check whether the products are counterfeit. Almost every day, Sanrio receives reports from customs authorities all over the world. Once it has been established that it is a case of trademark infringement, the infringing products are destroyed on site.