Brevard, North Carolina-based Sylvan Sport LLC informed knotmove.com today that Wuyi Tiandi Motion Apparatus Co., Ltd. (TDR MOTO) – a manufacturing company operating out of Zhejiang, China – has begun selling counterfeit copies of the popular Sylvan Sport Go – an all aluminium, lightweight, reconfigurable, camping and utility trailer (designed and built in the United States) that has been widely praised for its innovative design features. The trailer, “was copied down to the color scheme and even the marketing support materials,” said Tom Dempsey, founder and President of Sylvan Sport.
Whilst imitation might well be the sincerest form of flattery, the likelihood is that these Chinese camping trailer knock-offs will be about as dependable as the melamine-fortified milk powder and Dimethyl fumarate laced sofas that have already created huge scandals in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and beyond. What’s even more galling is that many of China’s most accomplished companies achieved their success by pilfering the intellectual property of other industrialized nations. In the case of Sylvan Sport – whose three original reconfigurable US travel trailer patents (566623, 566624 and 566625) were filed in 2007 (along with a subsequent PCT[i]) – a customer purchased a Sylvan Sport GO camper from the North Carolina factory in 2009, shipped the unit to Los Angeles and subsequently dispatched it from LA to mainland China where it is now being manufactured by the Wuyi Tiandi Motion Apparatus Co., Ltd. The reverse-engineered “TDR Camper” is currently being offered on Alibaba.com – a Hangzhou, China-based retail Internet business (HKSE: 1688) – for between $4,000 -$6,000. This is considerably below the Sylvan Sport Go’s US MSRP of $7995.00.
From counterfeit footwear, apparel and handbags to imitation pharmaceuticals, automotive and aviation components, and bogus Apple retail stores, China is the leading source of the world’s pirated goods. According to US Customs & Border Protection data, “seized counterfeit goods are dominated by products from China. During fiscal years 2004 through 2009, China accounted for about 77 percent of the aggregate value of goods seized in the United States. Hong Kong, India, and Taiwan followed China, accounting for 7, 2, and 1 percent of the seized value, respectively.” [GAO Intellectual Property – “Observations on Efforts to Quantify the Economic Effects of Counterfeit and Pirated Goods” – 05/2010]
Companies on both sides of the Atlantic have seen copycat Chinese imitations of their products. Sir James Dyson, the English inventor of the dual cyclone bagless vacuum, was incensed when Chinese competitors began filing his patents and claiming them as their own. “They don’t seem to have any moral standards about stealing our intellectual property,” said Dyson in a 2011 interview with Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper deputy city editor, Ruth Sunderland. Dyson’s experience has been mirrored by many US companies, which no doubt explains why China remains on the United States Trade Representative (USTR) Priority Watch List. The latter currently includes 12 US trading partners – China, Russia, Algeria, Argentina, Canada, Chile, India, Indonesia, Israel, Pakistan, Thailand, and Venezuela – who are deemed to be providing an inadequate “level of IPR protection or enforcement, or market access for persons relying on intellectual property protection.”
In 2008, an OECD report entitled “The Economic Impact of Counterfeiting and Piracy” conservatively suggested that “up to USD 200 billion of internationally traded products could have been counterfeit or pirated during 2005.” A figure that is larger than the national GDPs of some 150 economies. The report goes on to add that if this figure were to include counterfeit and pirated products that are produced and consumed domestically, and non-tangible pirated digital products being distributed via the Internet, the total magnitude of counterfeiting and piracy worldwide would increase by several hundred billion dollars per annum.
The costs incurred by Sylvan Sport as a result of this purloining of its Intellectual Property (IP) could be dramatic. Lower sales volumes could lead to reduced profits and a decrease in R&D spending. In addition, the company’s cost base will likely increase due to the need to augment global Intellectual Property protection – including carrying the costs of future IP litigation. This is a massive burden for a small company that employs just seven people. As Tom Dempsey said, “we’re too small of a company to afford taking on the world in terms of filings. It would be a significant cost.”
According to the US-China Business Council, “since China follows a first-to-file instead of a first-to-use principle, companies should register their works in China as early as possible. This is, in part, because China does not recognize international patents; if a company does not file in China, it has no rights in China.”Chinese companies like TDR Moto will therefore continue to leverage this considerable IP advantage to the detriment of their overseas competitors. Not only does this make a mockery of China’s “most favored nation” (MFN) trading status but it provides a strong disincentive to those American entrepreneurs who are contemplating bringing a new product to the market. The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu once said that “the more laws and order are made prominent, the more thieves and robbers there will be.” Indeed.
Contact Information: SylvanSport, 235 Commerce St., Brevard, NC 28712, USA. Tel: (00) 1-828-883-4292
Additional Patent Information:
- Help for Inventors – James Dyson/Dyson Ltd
- UK Patent Office
- US Patent Office
- European Patent Office
- TDR Moto appoints Australian distributor to sell counterfeit Sylvan Sport Go (latest 9/29 update)
- GO competitor finds SylvanSport and $15K in gear near Golden Gate Bridge
- SylvanSport launches 2011 ‘FindtheGO’ contest
[i] The Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) provides inventors with a centralized patent filing procedure. Whilst a single PCT filing is recognised by all the member countries it does not provide for the grant of an international patent. China became a signatory of the PCT on October 1st, 1993 with the provisions of the PCT coming into force on January 1st, 1994. Provisions of the PCT were also applied to Hong Kong with effect from July 1st, 1997.