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Homeland Security Agents Enforce Expired Patent In Oregon Toy Store

Nothing about running a small store called Pufferbelly Toys prepared Stephanie Cox for a cryptic phone call from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

"It's all very surreal, quite honestly," Cox said Wednesday. "I thought it was a prank when I first heard. I couldn't understand why Homeland Security would be investigating a tiny toy store in St. Helens."
Feds create puzzle not found on toy shelf

The owner of Pufferbelly Toys in St. Helens worries when Homeland Security agents show up on official business

Thursday, October 28, 2004
ASHBEL S. GREEN
Ashbel "Tony" Green: 503-221-8202;  tonygreen@news.oregonian.com


Nothing about running a small store called Pufferbelly Toys prepared Stephanie Cox for a cryptic phone call from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

"It's all very surreal, quite honestly," Cox said Wednesday. "I thought it was a prank when I first heard. I couldn't understand why Homeland Security would be investigating a tiny toy store in St. Helens."

The call came in late July or early August. A man identifying himself as a federal Homeland Security agent said he needed to talk to Cox at her store.

Cox asked what it was all about.

"He said he was not at liberty to discuss that," she said.

They agreed to meet in early August, but the agent later canceled. Cox thought the matter had blown over when the agent called back Sept. 9 to say he was coming out there.

"I was shaking in my shoes," said Cox, who has owned Pufferbelly Toys for more than four years. "My first thought was the government can shut your business down on a whim, in my opinion. If I'm closed even for a day that would cause undue stress."

The next day, two men arrived at the store and showed Cox their badges. The lead agent asked Cox whether she carried a toy called the Magic Cube. She said yes. The Magic Cube, he said, was an illegal copy of the Rubik's Cube, one of the most popular toys of all time. He told her to remove the Magic Cube from her shelves, and he watched to make sure she complied.

The whole thing took about 10 minutes.

After the agents left, Cox called the manufacturer of the Magic Cube, the Toysmith Group, which is based in Auburn, Wash. A representative told her that the Homeland Security agents had it wrong. The Rubik's Cube patent had expired, and the Magic Cube did not infringe on rival toy's trademark.

John Ryan, corporate counsel for the Toysmith Group, said Homeland Security, which includes Customs, routinely blocks shipments of products from overseas that violate intellectual property rights, such as patents, copyrights and trademarks.

"That's fine. That's not an outrageous federal act by any means," Ryan said. "But we certainly were surprised that a federal agent approached a toy store owner and frightened them."

Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said agents went to Pufferbelly based on a trademark infringement complaint filed in the agency's intellectual property rights center in Washington, D.C.

Kice also said Homeland Security officials routinely investigate such complaints and follow up if they determine they are valid.

"One of the things that our agency's responsible for doing is protecting the integrity of the economy and our nation's financial systems and obviously trademark infringement does have significant economic implications," she said.

After gaining assurances from Toysmith officials, Cox put the Magic Cube back on the shelf soon after the agents left.

Six weeks after her brush with Homeland Security, Cox is still scratching her head.

"Aren't there any terrorists out there?" she said.

homepage: homepage: http://www.oregonlive.com/news/oregonian/index.ssf?/base/front_page/109896512934940.xml

so... 30.Oct.2004 19:16

dwight

i wonder if we're gonna see the terrorist alert level go down a bit now that those magic cubes have been dealt with?

would you rather fight this battle at home, or in the toystores?





[vomits with rage]

it's the "broken windows" theory 31.Oct.2004 14:34

sue donim

Hey, remember Rudy Giuliani and his "broken windows" approach to law enforcement. You start by infringing someone's patents, which are part of the God-given right to corporate profit, and before you know it you'll be moving on to bombs and training camps in the Hindu Kush. Best to nip this sort of thing in the bud, before it threatens the whole System. I say, if the shop owner keeps griping, send her off to the Guantanamo tiger cages to cool her heels a few days. That'll learn her!

Store is now for sale 01.Nov.2004 11:03

necrobious

Hey, I have family that lives in the same town, I was just up there and the business is up for sale now! Anyone hear more on why?