Police in California seized nearly 50,000 pairs of counterfeit Vans footwear with an estimated street value of $2.3 million during a series of raids on several shoe importers and distributors.

Officers arrested three people during the September 20 operation in the east of the city - details of which have only just been made public by the US footwear giant.

Investigators claim the three defendants were importing and distributing footwear which, although not bearing the word Vans, carried side-stripe and outsole designs which are registered trademarks, and which, in the opinion of the company, as well as the authorities, were virtual copies of authentic Vans shoes.

The shoes seized were being imported and distributed by the defendants throughout the southern California area, Mexico and Latin America. At the same time the arrests and seizures were being carried out, the Greenberg Traurig firm filed civil lawsuits against all the defendants for damages resulting from the defendants' widespread activities.

Vans' vice-president and general counsel, Craig E Gosselin, indicated that this action was part of Vans' overall effort to protect some of its most valuable assets, including its trademarked side-stripes and waffle outsole design, from unauthorised copying and sale.

"The word Vans and our side-stripes and waffle outsole are valuable trademarks that consumers have come to identify with the authentic style, design and quality they have come to expect from Vans," he said.

"We are thankful for the actions of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and our counsel and investigators in working so quickly to rectify this situation."

He added: "This is only one of a continuing series of actions that Vans has taken and will continue to take to protect all of its trademarks from unauthorised copying. We intend to see this situation through to its rightful conclusion."