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$30K Worth of Multimeters Must Be Destroyed Because They're Yellow 653

Posted by Soulskill
from the school-buses-on-high-alert dept.
An anonymous reader points out a post at the blog of Sparkfun, a hobbyist electronics retailer. They recently received a letter from U.S. Customs saying a shipment of 2,000 multimeters was being barred from entry into the country. The reason? Trademark law. A company named Fluke holds a trademark on multimeters that have a 'contrasting yellow border.' Sparkfun's multimeters are a yellowish orange, but it was enough for Customs to stop the shipment. Returning the shipment is not an option because of import taxes in China, so the multimeters must now be destroyed. At $15 per item, it'll cost Sparkfun $30,000, plus the $150/hr fee for destroying them. Sparkfun had no idea about the trademark, and doesn't mind changing the color, but they say restrictions like these are a flaw in the trademark system. "Small business does not have the resources to stay abreast of all trademarks for all the products they don't carry. If you’re going to put the onus on the little guy to avoid infringing IP then you shouldn't need an army of consultants or attorneys to find this information."
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$30K Worth of Multimeters Must Be Destroyed Because They're Yellow

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  • by ZorinLynx (31751) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @02:06PM (#46525771) Homepage

    Did Fluke actually request this? Or did Customs do this of their own volition?

    If it's the latter, Fluke should step up and allow them to make a one time exception for this shipment. It would generate considerably goodwill for the company and show that they're not bullies keeping the little guy down.

    If they DID request this, then fuck them all with a chainsaw, seriously.

    • by alen (225700) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @02:10PM (#46525833)

      i don't know, but if you look at the pictures of both the sparkfun literally copied the color scheme

      i don't know if they designed it or just sell some chinese copy, but they could at least have changed the colors

      • by kevink707 (1331815) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @02:22PM (#46525995)
        If you do an image search for multimeters there aren't many colors left which don't copy one already in existence. I'd suggest Sparkfun try periwinkle.
        • by Curtman (556920) * on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @02:40PM (#46526239)
          Does this mean I should destroy my yellow UEI multimeter? Or can I just dye it?
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by macdude22 (846648)
            I should also get on destroying my Yellow Radioshack multimeter.
        • by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @03:22PM (#46526675)

          If you do an image search for multimeters there aren't many colors left which don't copy one already in existence.

          How many of those other colors are protected by a registered trademark?

          If you look at this multimeter, and a Fluke multimeter, side-by-side, it is fairly obvious that it was intentionally designed to look as close as possible to a Fluke. The color, the taper of the case, etc. This was hardly innocent, accidental infringement.

          • by anotheryak (1823894) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @04:18PM (#46527285)

            Agreed, this is an attempt to copy Fluke's recent multimeter design.

            It's not just yellow. It has the same color scheme, same display layout, similar fonts, same case taper as a real Fluke. Brand name in same location as is the model number and description. It was designed to look as much like a Fluke as possible.

            If I saw the sparkfun multimeter sitting on a bench in my lab, I would think it was a Fluke until I got close.

            Sparkfun knew this when they bought them. Their fault. If they did not know it was designed to imitate a Fluke, they are in the wrong business. "Other companies did it and did not get caught" does not make it right. They risked it anyway and lost. Complaining about the trademark is not the solution.

        • If you do an image search for multimeters there aren't many colors left which don't copy one already in existence. I'd suggest Sparkfun try periwinkle.

          Or "rainbow", then they'll be fabulous.

      • by saleenS281 (859657) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @02:29PM (#46526103) Homepage
        Not to mention I find it nearly IMPOSSIBLE a company that's getting into the multimeter business had no idea that they were making a product that looks identical to one of, if not THE biggest player in the market segment. You know these things were destined for ebay "multimeter, just like fluke only cheaper!"
        • by swillden (191260) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @04:32PM (#46527431) Homepage Journal

          Not to mention I find it nearly IMPOSSIBLE a company that's getting into the multimeter business

          I'm guessing you don't know who Sparkfun is, but they're not in the multimeter business. They're in the hobbyist electronics business, or perhaps even more in the hobbyist electronics education business. If you talk to any of them (I know a couple), they very much view themselves as educators and facilitators of education, focused on making electronic engineering widely accessible and fun. Yes, they sell stuff, but that's because without revenue they can't achieve their main goals.

          • by saleenS281 (859657) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @04:40PM (#46527509) Homepage
            So hobbyists in the electronics business have never heard or seen fluke? Seriously, that's what you're going with? ANYONE that has spent 30 seconds looking for a multimeter has come across fluke, and every one of their multimeters are the same color. You'd struggle to make something look anymore similar to their multimeters short of putting the fluke name on the front.

            I'll give you a hint - the guy who works for sparkfun in the comments section of his own blog post said:

            Yea, it’s hard to say whether Fluke has done such an amazing job at branding that we all think Fluke yellow is the color of DMMs or if they are simply capitalizing on a color arrangement we all generically know as ‘multimeter’.

            They knew EXACTLY what they were doing.

      • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @02:32PM (#46526143)

        "i don't know, but if you look at the pictures of both the sparkfun literally copied the color scheme

        "i don't know if they designed it or just sell some chinese copy, but they could at least have changed the colors

        Let's face it: a "trademark" on a common electronic gadget being yellow is overly-broad and never should have been issued. It probably happened back in the day when multimeters in the U.S. were made by only a few companies.

        Maybe I should go out and trademark traffic signs that are red and white. Or black and white. Think what a business I could have!

      • by iroll (717924)

        It might be far less nefarious; maybe engineers designing these things are so used to grey-on-yellow that it has become the generic de facto color scheme for multimeters.

        My trusty old BK is the same color:

        http://www.bkprecision.com/pro... [bkprecision.com]

      • Maybe so, but I think the argument made in the original article is still valid. If you're going to copyright your color scheme, you better list a *specific* color shade. Simply declaring "yellow" or any other primary color to be "your copyrighted color" is far too broad a statement.

        People who pay a premium price for a Fluke meter are usually well aware of what they're paying for. Just because a Chinese knock-off comes out with similar colors doesn't mean people would be fooled into thinking it was equivalen

        • Trademark, not copyright. Though often lumped together along with patents under the heading of 'intellectual property' they are actually unrelated areas of law with little in common.

        • If you would actually read the trademark, it mentions dark gray and yellow in a specific, illustrated pattern. This knock off clearly copies it (whether on purpose or accident is immaterial).
      • by grahamwest (30174)

        This was my reaction as well. I looked at the trademark registration, which has a picture of the Fluke, then at Sparkfun's site. So, fair enough. However, I google image searched 'multimeter' and there are lots of multimeters in that same shade of yellow, of all sorts of brands. I had no idea yellow "meant" Fluke, personally. I think there's a valid case that this trademark has become diluted and generic. Whether all those others are licensed uses or not, if there's no scope for customer confusion of brand,

    • by retchdog (1319261) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @02:10PM (#46525837) Journal

      The thing is, allowing trademark violations to go unchallenged for no particular reason at all (in law, being kind is not a reason) will dilute the mark just as if they did nothing, or even worse. So, there is heavy incentive for them not to allow it, and they probably wouldn't.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Qzukk (229616)

        The thing is, allowing trademark violations to go unchallenged for no particular reason at all (in law, being kind is not a reason)

        That's why you don't let it go "unchallenged", you license the trademark to them for one time use selling this specific lot of multimeters. I'm sure a real lawyer could come up with the correct language to use here to make everyone happy.

      • by AK Marc (707885)
        I can't recall having seen a multimeter maker that doesn't infringe, based on this description. I just looked at some major retailers, and every maker carried had at least one that looked just like the banned one. Some had green border or yellow, but they had both.

        It's already generic, and was before the trademark.
    • by Pope Raymond Lama (57277) <gwidion.mpc@com@br> on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @02:15PM (#46525899) Homepage

      If it's the latter, Fluke should step up and allow them to make a one time exception for this shipment. It would generate considerably goodwill for the company and show that they're not bullies keeping the little guy down.

      You are new to this "capitalism" thing, aren't you?

      • by Sponge Bath (413667) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @02:22PM (#46525997)

        You are new to this "capitalism" thing, aren't you?

        Why yes, I am. Please, trustworthy sir, can you watch my stuff while I learn the basics?

    • by asmkm22 (1902712) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @02:16PM (#46525921)

      It seems unlikely that Fluke would have even known about the shipment, much less been in a position to request it. Also, I seriously doubt the company would benefit from much "goodwill" over the ordeal. Their target market is kind of niche, and not exactly prone to making buying decisions based on Facebook polls or whatever. Plus, letting a possibly-inferior product that can be mistaken for their own loose in the wild would mean much more in potential damages to their rep than any "goodwill" gained from the exemption.

      Sparkfun does bring up a good point, however. They didn't really do anything "wrong" yet still get hit with a financial loss big enough to sink a lot of businesses. There currently is no system in place for them to have been able to vet the order beforehand for possible trademark violations, aside from retaining lawyers to check out every product they want to order. That may very well be SOP for large companies with deep pockets and lawyers on staff, but it's entirely unlikely that any small business could afford it, much less realize it's something they need to do.

      At the end of the day, it's just another roadblock on a road that's already full of them, for anyone looking to start or expand their business.

      • Unfortunately for Sparkfun, ignorance of the law is not a valid excuse for breaking it. I work for one of those large companies with deep pockets and lawyers, so I have the good fortune of having been trained somewhat on this stuff. The government takes import and export matters very seriously and considers it the responsibility of the parties involved to conduct due diligence screening to ensure compliance.

    • by shobadobs (264600)

      If you just offer one-time exceptions whenever anybody whines, they'll have no incentive to not obey trademarks in the future. There is a huge difference between Flukes and cheap $15 multimeters, and it was completely unnecessary for these multimeters to copy Fluke's trademarked color scheme. They aren't exactly some no-name brand. The color scheme of these devices was chosen to mimic that of Fluke's. It's a clear cut case of trademark violation.e

  • by NotDrWho (3543773) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @02:07PM (#46525791)

    I dream of starting a company that can innovate with new products. But I suspect the reality would be a nightmare of lawyers and hassles instead.

    • by asmkm22 (1902712)

      That's your problem. You're dreaming of starting a company, when you should be dreaming of that innovative new product. Once you have that, THEN you start the company.

    • by Obfuscant (592200)

      I dream of starting a company that can innovate with new products.

      Copying someone else's design for a standard piece of test equipment is not "innovating", it's copying. Now, if your yellow, Fluke-shaped multimeters also picked the dirty clothes up off the floor, did the laundry, folded/ironed as appropriate, and provided the parent's-basement dwellers with the correct form of oral sex, THAT would be innovation you could be proud of.

  • by damicatz (711271) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @02:07PM (#46525793)

    The Department of Homeland Security is nothing but a bunch of thugs. Having dealt with them before on customs, this is basically some government employee flexing their muscles because they like the power and have nothing better to do. The appropriate amount of boot-licking and obsequiousness (and tribute payment) is required in order to get it through.

  • To be fair... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kenja (541830) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @02:08PM (#46525799)
    Those look a LOT like a Fluke multimeter, in more ways then just the color. I find it hard to believe that isn't intentional.
    • I find it hard to believe that it couldn't be fixed by replacement cases.

      • I find it hard to believe that it couldn't be fixed by replacement cases.

        If these are $15 each, it would cost more in time (for the retail employee to change the case for each one before it is sold) than the likely profit margin. It is likely cheaper for the manufacturer to destroy them.

    • by random735 (102808) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @02:15PM (#46525905) Homepage

      oh come on. it's clearly just a fluke!

    • Re:To be fair... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by hirschma (187820) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @02:16PM (#46525923)

      Sparkfun must have known that those meters look almost exactly like a Fluke (because of the yellow, and a bunch of other reasons).

      Sorry, but it is not an example of IP run amok. This is Sparkfun being disingenuous.

    • Re:To be fair... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Rudisaurus (675580) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @02:17PM (#46525951)
      Totally agree. What's more, you can't be in the multimeter business and NOT be aware of Fluke; they've been prominent players and frontrunners in that business for literally decades. Sparkfun had to be aware of Fluke's product line, but they went ahead and chose a yellowish-orange border colour anyway. "Army of consultants or attorneys" indeed! Serves 'em right.
      • by TheCarp (96830)

        So once all the easily distinguishable case colors are taken, nobody else should be able to enter the multimeter business?

        Should sparkfun check every product it decides to buy and resell against competitors lines to be sure they don't share a color scheme, lest they infringe a trade mark?

    • Re:To be fair... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Krojack (575051) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @02:17PM (#46525953)

      The only Fluke I see it looking sorta similar to is this one [circuitspecialists.com]. SparkFun offered to change the color. Also it's a multimeter, how much different can it look so it doesn't look like others. That's kinda like Ford suing every auto manufacturer for making cars with 4 wheels.

    • Re:To be fair... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ThatAblaze (1723456) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @02:18PM (#46525965)

      Yes, it sounds like typical corporate strategy to me "lets just go ahead and break the rules, we'll pay if we get caught, and if not profit!"

    • Re:To be fair... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by fermion (181285) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @02:23PM (#46526025) Homepage Journal
      Sparkfun had no idea about the trademark, and doesn't mind changing the color, but they say restrictions like these are a flaw in the trademark system.

      I wonder what kind of electronics person does not know fluke and the trademark, at least anyone who has a passing relationship to the business.

      This is where trademark laws works, and the way it is supposed to work. Fluke has spent 50 years developing good tools for people who need of want good tools. Some upstart like Sparkfun decides to superficially mimic this work, and then claims 'we did not know'.

      Here is the thing with small business. You are allowed and encouraged to take risks, you are allowed to try to work under the radar, but sometimes you make a mistake and you have to pay. There are rules, and if you are going to play the game, it is important to know the rules. They can be complex, even arbitrary, which is why kids do not do the real work.

      • I know Fluke! I even know their tools generally use dark body, yellowish outline. I was completely unaware that this was actually protected by a trade dress, though. Did you? (Before you read this story, that is.)

        What about Voltcraft? Theirs are generally a dark body with a light grey outline (though they - like Fluke - have plenty of variations) Is that protected by a trade dress? No, don't go googling. Tell me, off the top of your head, yes or no?

        And if it is.. where would you find that? That appe

    • Re:To be fair... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by jandrese (485) <kensama@vt.edu> on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @03:31PM (#46526771) Homepage Journal
      Sparkfun is also somewhat notorious about copying products in the Arduino peripheral space as well. For almost every Adafruit product, there is a Sparkfun version that is nearly identical, except that you have to go to Adafruit to get the code. Since it's open hardware this is legal, but one would prefer if the company innovated a bit more instead of just copying everything they see. I don't feel too sorry for them getting burned by it here.
  • by wisnoskij (1206448) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @02:09PM (#46525815) Homepage

    For blue, red, green, purple, white, black, tan, clear, brown, striped, poka dotted, etc. multimeters, and de-facto own all the rights to create all multimeters?

  • So you have to hire them to know what they are.

  • Infringement (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SandwhichMaster (1044184) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @02:10PM (#46525829) Homepage

    I've trademarked black writing on a white background. Please destroy any materials that infringe on my IP

  • another idea (Score:5, Insightful)

    by somepunk (720296) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @02:10PM (#46525835) Homepage

    Ok, you can't send em back, and the gov't says they aren't legal here. Why not a third destination?

  • by geekmux (1040042) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @02:12PM (#46525863)

    Schools are struggling to find the funds to replace textbooks, let alone put their hands on some good hardware like this, and we can't find some way to donate this hardware instead of destroying it? Who cares if the legal document states that no one over the age of 18 is allowed to posses it, at least let someone get some use out of it.

    Talk about stupid.

  • If he had tried to make the multimeter in the "rounded rectangle" shape, with a form factor that will fit in one's palm, with a readable display facing the user, Apple would have sued zim for $30000 per infringement.
  • by Spazmania (174582) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @02:16PM (#46525911) Homepage

    If they haven't talked to an intellectual property lawyer yet, they should do so immediately. Safety yellow on an electrical testing device is incredibly generic.

  • by SirDrinksAlot (226001) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @02:16PM (#46525917) Journal

    Sorry, I like SparkFun and all but this does look a lot like Fluke industrial design. Ok so the colour isn't EXACTLY the same shade of yellow, but if you removed the branding from it and asked somebody what brand it looks like they'll say Fluke assuming they've poked around the market any or are in the industry. Granted it would be cool of Fluke saying something like "OK This ONE time" since SparkFun is all about hobbyists who might eventually become Fluke customers. SparkFun should have thought of this before ordering a container full of them, pleading ignorance that your multimeter is DAMN CLOSE to somebody else's product and not expect trouble is dubious at best. It looks a lot like a Fluke 17b with out the buttons.

  • Destroyed? Hello No...

    These will be on Woot in a few weeks, re branded of course.

  • by retchdog (1319261) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @02:17PM (#46525945) Journal

    I notice that SparkFun Electronics is a registered trademark. I'm sure they'd have no problem with my competing companies, SporkFun electronics and Sp@rkFun Electronics.

    In the law, ignorance is not an excuse and hasn't been for centuries if not millennia. You are responsible for what you sell and, yes, for better or worse, colors have been trademarkable for a while now. I know of several examples like T-Mobile's magenta and Reese's orange, and I'm not even a retailer.

    I have no doubt that SparkFun would exercise its trademark against infringers, so I have little sympathy for their case even if their violation was unintentional.

  • by YesIAmAScript (886271) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @02:22PM (#46526003)

    If your small business can't keep track of enough stuff to keep from infringing IP, then buy from suppliers who will indemnify you for IP infringement. Or just buy from reputable retailers.

    You decided to get some sketchy Chinese meters from a company skirting the law to try to save some money or raise margins. And now it bit you. It seems like this is how the system is supposed to work.

  • Baloney (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dtmos (447842) * on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @02:23PM (#46526007)

    Any "hobbyist electronics retailer" attempting to sell a multimeter in the US knows -- or should know -- what a Fluke multimeter looks like, and any businessman or businesswoman knows -- or should know -- that there will be problems trying to sell a product that looks like the product with a dominant share of the market.

    Also, you don't need "an army of consultants or attorneys to find this information." Trademarks are freely available from the USPTO web site, in searchable form. Anybody can look them up.

    Finally, most business contracts between a manufacturer and a distributor will have an indemnification clause, in which the manufacturer warrants that the product has no intellectual property issues and, should a claim be made against the distributor, the costs associated with such claims will be borne by the manufacturer. If Sparkfun's contract for the Fluke knock-offs didn't have such a clause, I'm sure their standard contract will in the future.

    • by Agent0013 (828350)

      Any "hobbyist electronics retailer" attempting to sell a multimeter in the US knows -- or should know -- what a Fluke multimeter looks like, and any businessman or businesswoman knows -- or should know -- that there will be problems trying to sell a product that looks like the product with a dominant share of the market.

      And how did that stop the multiple brands of meters being sold at Home Depot and Lowes that have an identical look to these. Perhaps safety yellow on an electrical testing device is an industry standard?

      Also, you don't need "an army of consultants or attorneys to find this information." Trademarks are freely available from the USPTO web site, in searchable form. Anybody can look them up.

      I have seen postings from people who did look it up. The Fluke trademark states that the color is not a part of the trademark.

  • by n1ywb (555767) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @02:24PM (#46526045) Homepage Journal
    I am holding in my hand at this very moment a grey faced yellow bodies multimeter which was made in china and sold at walmart. I guess laws only apply to the little guys.
  • by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @02:26PM (#46526063) Homepage Journal

    It would be a hell of a lot easier to empathize with SparkFun, if they weren't being such whiny little bitches about the whole affair (which, FTR, is their own damn fault - Fluke's been around and using that same design scheme for decades).

    Look - you didn't do your due diligence, and got yourself burned for it; suck it up, learn from your mistake, and move on with your lives.

  • by Dcnjoe60 (682885) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @02:27PM (#46526069)

    This is indeed odd. From the actual document of the trademark owned by Fluke it specifically states: Color is not claimed as a feature of the mark. Either there is some other reason the items are being refused entry or Fluke is falsely claiming a trademark infraction, at least if it is because a similar color yellow was used.

    Besides, isn't it up to the courts to determine trademark violations, not customs?

    • by DRJlaw (946416) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @05:10PM (#46527787)

      This is indeed odd. From the actual document of the trademark owned by Fluke it specifically states: Color is not claimed as a feature of the mark. Either there is some other reason the items are being refused entry or Fluke is falsely claiming a trademark infraction, at least if it is because a similar color yellow was used.

      That is not the "actual document of the trademark owned by Fluke," it is the USPTO's TSDR entry. You can download the actual documents by clicking on the "Documents" tab and downloading them. The actual documents do not disclaim color. In fact, if you look at the "Registration Certificate" for 2,796,480, there is no disclaimer of color.

      Fluke is not falsely claiming a trademark infraction. A USPTO contractor has screwed up the electronic summary of the (then-official) paper record. Since the description of the mark specifically states a color scheme, it's pretty clear that there's a some sort of problem. You simply haven't taken the next step of looking at the actual record.

      Besides, isn't it up to the courts to determine trademark violations, not customs?

      One obtains a customs exclusion order from the US International Trade Commission [wikipedia.org], which functions as a so-called "Article I tribunal." ITC decisions can be appealed to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals. Any way you slice it, a "court" has found a that there was a trademark violation. Sparkfun could appeal the application of that exclusion order to their meters (a protest under 19 C.F.R. 174), but it doesn't sound like they will.

      Customs simply enforces the ITC's exclusion order. You might as well ask whether it's up to the US Marshals to determine whether someone is a fugitive, while ignoring that the police have already obtained a summons and the court has already issued an arrest warrant.

      FYI, don't believe the "aww shucks, we're a small business" story. Sparkfun was eager to tout in 2012 that it had "more than 140 employees, revenues of more than $25 million and posted 128 percent revenue growth from 2009 to 2011." While the SBA may define a small business as any enterprise with fewer than 500 employees, that's a pretty substantial business in everyone else's eyes.

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @02:31PM (#46526127) Journal
    This is the sparkfun multimeter: https://www.sparkfun.com/produ... [sparkfun.com] These are the look and feel of Fluke: https://www.google.com/search?... [google.com] I am glad the customs caught and destroyed the Sparkfun's imitations. I might have a different perspective on this than most (native born) Americans. I grew up in India where the " look and feel " infringement is rampant, and there is absolutely no enforcement. The best quality steel cases are made by a company called Godrej. I have seen cheap knock-offs with barely perceptible difference in name "Golred" Godrel" "Gotrej" etc etc.You have to be very careful when you buy stuff. The electrical fittings made by a company called Bos is top of the line. They will pack cheap knock offs inside discarded packaging of Bos and try to sell it to you. You need to fight the retailer, wholesaler and the manufacturer to get the right product. Have you seen "Clogged" tooth paste? Funny as it is, it exists/existed in India sometime back.

    But most Americans born here grew up with more honest set of retailers, more honest wholesalers, reasonably effective enforcement, they have not had this cheap imitation knock off problem. The worst you would see is the Walmart brand (Equate?) of nasal spray next to one made by J&J. If you had never gone home and opened a package of Cynthol bar soap and find inside a foul smelling skin abrading cake of caustic alkali with Sinthol stamped on it, you have not been affected by these knock-offs. So all the power to customs agents to spot the cheap knock-offs and take suo moto action to knock the imitations off the planet.

    • by iggymanz (596061) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @04:03PM (#46527115)

      you're confused, if there is no attempt to deceive, if the item is known not to be similar expensive name-brand, there is no issue with "cheap knock off". I'd rather have a $25 meter that can do 90% of what a $500 one can do because I can't afford to blow $500 on a meter.

      That customs agent is a despicable tool of big corporations keeping us enslaved. to hell with him

  • by argStyopa (232550) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @02:41PM (#46526249) Journal

    http://www.usitc.gov/publicati... [usitc.gov]

    "* Certain Digital Multimeters, and Products with Multimeter Functionality
    Investigation No. 337-TA-588
    (Publication No. 4210; December 2010)"

    from http://www.usitc.gov/intellect... [usitc.gov]

    (Warning 162 page pdf)

    Basically Fluke was a party behind the Trade investigation as to importations of comparable-appearing knockoffs.

    I have no horse in this race; I don't use multimeters and couldn't care less who wins (although I tend to be a free-marketeer, generally). Imagegoogling for both, some of them look remarkably similar. I'd say the block was justified. If a bunch got through before the ban was enforced, that doesn't mean the ban was unjust or arbitrary.

    • by cbeaudry (706335)

      Did you look up other brands like Ideal?

      There must be a dozen multimeter brands that use that same color scheme.

  • by sweet 'n sour (595166) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @02:54PM (#46526381)
    /Any/ attorney fresh from law school who has taken /one/ course in trademark law would know that there are circumstances where colors can be trademarked. No "army" needed here. If Sparkfun has an issue with anyone, it would be with the manufacturer of those devices - not the countries that enforce IP laws.
  • by Virtucon (127420) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @03:08PM (#46526505)

    I've used Fluke equipment for a very long time, before that Beckman products as well and unfortunately like anything in this arena (meters, test equipment etc.) as soon as they release a product nowadays it gets copied. A lot of the Fluke designs have literally been hijacked to the point that unless you closely look for the Fluke branding, you can't tell the difference until you get into a calibration test and I've seen the cheap imports fall flat in areas where it matters. For the average guy out there tinkering it doesn't matter but in high end manufacturing and testing, it does. It's akin to fake Rolex Watches, designer handbags and the like with feature/functions that have been carefully worked out including tolerances that can mean a product or test passes or fails. Because we're talking about multimeters here, It really is no different an argument than Cellphones manufactured by two different companies where one has patents or trademarks on their designs. These are the mechanisms allowed by law that allow these companies protect their IP but regrettably there are importers that will try and sneak their product in, taking the risk that Customs will confiscate the items. I realize Sparkfun just want to sell to enthusiasts out there but really, they should have checked before trying to importing them.

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