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HQ 955500

February 10, 1994

CLA-2 CO:R:C:M 955500 MBR


TARIFF NO.: 8531.20.00

Mr. Michael J. McCarthy
Vice President, Imports
Oceanair Inc.
135 American Legion Highway
Revere, MA 02151

RE: Merlin Identifier System; Commercial Caller ID System; Signalling Apparatus; Telephonic Apparatus; 8531; 8517; HQs 954390, 953366

Dear Mr. McCarthy:

This is in reply to your letters of September 23, 1993, and November 22, 1993, to the Customs Office in New York, requesting the classification of the "Merlin Identifier" system, under the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (HTSUS). Your letters were forwarded to this office for reply.


The Merlin Identifier System ("System") is a telephone Caller ID system designed for commercial applications. It consists of a control unit, individual display units, an administrative keyboard, and an administrative display unit. As an option, the System can also be connected to a personal computer (customer supplied) for administrative or database management functions and to a serial printer to output Caller ID information.

The Control Unit provides Caller ID functions to the displays, administrative functions, and the Merlin Identifier database. For each incoming call the system sends the following information to the displays: the last two digits of the line number on which the call was received, the time and date of the call as recorded at the central office, and the caller's telephone number. If the telephone number matches a record in the database that has a name associated with it, the name appears on the display as well. Additionally, if the caller's name has a "priority flag" in the database, an audible "beep" will sound.

The keyboard is used to set up the system and maintain the database. A customer supplied personal computer can take the place of the keyboard and the administrative display. The serial printer provides a printed copy of the Caller ID information.


Is the Merlin Identifier Caller ID system classifiable under heading 8531, HTSUS, as electric sound or visual signalling apparatus, or under heading 8517, HTSUS, as electrical apparatus for line telephony?


The General Rules of Interpretation (GRI's) to the HTSUS govern the classification of goods in the tariff schedule. GRI 1 states, in pertinent part:

...classification shall be determined according to the terms of the headings and any relative section or chapter notes...

The current legal precedent for the classification of Caller ID units is HQ 953366, dated April 5, 1993, as affirmed by 954390, dated October 7, 1993, which held that Caller ID units were classifiable in heading 8531, HTSUS, which provides for signalling apparatus. In HQ 953366 Customs cited the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System Explanatory Notes ("ENs") regarding heading 85.31, page 1382, which state that signalling apparatus includes:

Number indicators. The signals appear as illuminated figures on the face of a small box; in some apparatus of this kind the calling mechanism is operated by the dial of a telephone.

Although not dispositive, the ENs are to be used for guidance in determining the proper interpretation of the HTSUS. 54 Fed. Reg. 35128 (August 23, 1989).

Additionally, in HQ 953366 Customs stated the following: "[a]lthough the devices appear to be prima facie described by heading 8517, HTSUS, they are still classified in heading 8531, HTSUS, where they are more specifically provided for pursuant to GRI 3." Thus, we relied on GRI 3(a), which provides that: "[t]he heading which provides the most specific description shall be preferred to headings providing a more general description."

Therefore, signalling apparatus, such as Caller IDs, whose sole purpose and function is merely signalling, and particularly apparatus which is enumerated in the ENs in heading 85.31, is properly classifiable in heading 8531, HTSUS.

Section XVI Legal Note 4, HTSUS, provides direction in the classification of a "functional unit." It states as follows:

Where a machine (including a combination of machines) consists of individual components (whether separate or interconnected by piping, by transmission devices, by electric cables or by other devices) intended to contribute together to a clearly defined function covered by one of the headings in chapter 84 or chapter 85, then the whole falls to be classified in the heading appropriate to that function.

The Merlin Identifier system is a combination of machines interconnected by cables, intended to contribute together to the clearly defined function of signalling (chapter 85). Therefore, the whole system is classifiable in subheading 8531.20.00, HTSUS.


The Merlin Identifier system is a commercial telephone Caller ID system which is classifiable in subheading 8531.20.00, HTSUS, which provides for signalling apparatus. The rate of duty is 2.7 percent ad valorem.


John Durant, Director

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