If, as the saying goes, being copied by a competitor is the best compliment, Kraigh Stewart could really use less of it.
The co-founder of Atlanta-based Fusionbrands Inc. said he does not have time to celebrate the recent settlement of its intellectual property infringement lawsuit against a U.S.-based retailer and its supplier, because of the worsening problem and lack of protection for American companies that innovate.
Fusionbrands offers a unique line of award-winning kitchen utensils made with polymers, from the world's first vertical ice cube tray to wearable cooking tongs.
We use polymers in unusual ways, Stewart said at the International Home + Housewares Show in Chicago.
By using such materials as silicone, nylon, polypropylene and Santoprene to create unique designs, the company said it always pushes the envelope.
One of Fusionbrands' signature products, a floating egg poacher poachpod, became a popular kitchen product soon after its launch a few years ago. The product's patent and trademark were issued in 2007.
According to court filings, Taylor Gifts Inc. of Paoli, Pa., started selling on its Web site counterfeit versions of the silicone poachpod, supplied by Helman Group Ltd. of Oxnard, Calif. Taylor Gifts also allegedly advertised the knockoffs with photos of genuine poachpods and its trademarked name.
It was a classic case of bait and switch . It was completely direct and blatant, Stewart said. The case was settled at the end of last year.
Fusionbrands is looking for opportunities to go after all of the infringers in the market, with four lawyers working around the world.
It's extremely costly, Stewart said.
The company designs all of its products in the United States and has them manufactured in China. But Stewart said the designs were not leaked from the Chinese factories.
Our suppliers are very solid and respectable. It's the companies in the prospering markets [such as the U.S.] that are greedy.
However, the knockoffs are made in China, Stewart said. We do know who the manufacturer is. We will pursue [action against the company] once the China patent issues.
China is a contracting state of the Patent Cooperation Treaty, an international agreement that covers a majority of the world's countries.
Fusionbrands' strategy to defend its intellectual property is working, but not fast enough. Even at the housewares show in Chicago, there are more copies than I can count, Stewart said with frustration.
These companies decide to copy the products for a period of time, knowing the company [that makes the original] won't be able to catch up with them until the patent issues years down the road, he said. During that time, they'll reap the benefits as much as they can, knowing that they may have to pay something at the end.
Compounding the problem is the slow processing of patent applications in the United States. Fusionbrands said the application for one of its products has been pending for four years, as the system is backlogged and the U.S. patent office overwhelmed.
The really sad part, Stewart said, is that American innovation is going to change the economy back to the positive direction, but if you can't protect innovation, it leaks right out the back door.
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