In a recent decision, the United States Court of International Trade (CIT), upheld the classification of United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) with regard to fiber optic telecommunications modules, finding that the “optical” quality of fiber optics trumped their use for data transmission.

ADC argued that, although fiber optic technologies use light (transmitted along glass cables), the technologies, including the modules at issue, are not “optical” instruments.  Further, ADC argued that the classification for optical products should be limited to articles that relate to the light spectrum visible to the human eye.

The CIT was not persuaded.  In a clinical application of the General Rules of Interpretation (GRIs), the CIT’s analysis centered on the common meaning of “optical.”  CIT found no ambiguity in the term optical (i.e., relating to light) nor any limitation in common definitions to the light spectrum which is properly considered optical. Having found no ambiguity in the term optical, pursuant to the GRIs, CIT determined that the modules were prima facie classifiable under subheading 9013 as “other optical appliances and instruments”.  CIT dispensed with ADC’s argument that its preferred classifications was equally apt, citing the relative lack of precision in subheading 8517.62.00’s description of data transmission machines and a significant note to Chapter 85 which expressly excluded from Chapter 85 all articles covered by Chapter 90.

The evaluation heirarchy set forth in the GRIs dictated the outcome of this decision. Although ADC’s modules are machines used for data transmission, their optical qualities made Chapter 90 the proper classification. Experienced counsel can help navigate the GRIs and other technical import rules and regulations and add certainty to an importer’s bottom line.