Inventors Beware: Copycats Thrive Abroad
A March 18 USA Today article written by Kathy Chu and paraphrased here, tells a cautionary tale for U.S. independent inventors and small business owners seeking to distribute their products and services globally. The article profiles the experience of Thomas Dempsey, founder of Brevard, N.C.-based SylvanSport, a small business that manufactures and sells a recreational camper trailer Dempsey designed and patented. Dempsey's nightmare began last summer when a customer alerted him to a Chinese company's website marketing a product strikingly similar to his own.
The ensuing story reveals Dempsey as the victim of copycats whom had secretly purchased his product and reverse-engineered its design. The copycats, a manufacturing firm in Jinhua City, China, went on to acquire a Chinese patent and began marketing the product on a global scale. This has already translated into lost sales for Dempsey as his own company attempts to move into a more global presence but finds distributors are routinely opting for the Chinese product instead of his. The worst part for Dempsey is that there is nothing he can do. His U.S. patent does not grant him exclusive rights to sell his own product in the rest of the world, and though his company is currently staying afloat, the article quotes him as saying, "There's a very real chance that the Chinese company could be the survivor here and we could go out of business."
Dempsey's ordeal is the kind of story that makes every independent inventor and small-business owner cringe, but it's an important lesson in understanding global intellectual property issues and serves as a reminder that innovators can and should protect their products by filing for patents in international offices before outside competitors get their hands on it.
The USPTO is committed to helping American inventors protect their IP both at home and abroad.
The full article can be found on the USA Today website.
Citation: "Chinese Copycats Challenge U.S. Small Businesses." Kathy Chu. USA Today. 18 Mar. 2012.