Update: Official complaint can be read here (Illinois case 1:12-cv-09033 PDF).
Last night the New York Times published a sensationalist article titled Popular Wrench Fights a Chinese Rival. It tells the story of how Sears opted to produce the Max Axess Wrench under their Craftsman brand rather than to order pallets of Loggerhead Tools’ Bionic Wrench to stock in its stores.
The story is still somewhat murky, but it looks like there were timing issues and disagreements about price, with negotiations failing to result in a deal ahead of Father’s Day. The NY Times article also goes on to say that the Bionic Wrench inventor refused an order for the tools before the major tool gift-giving holiday.
I noticed the Bionic Wrench in stores during the 2011 winter holiday shopping season. No doubt thousands of DIYers received these gifts as tools.
Knowing that Loggerhead Tools refused Sears’ order ahead of Father’s Day, it makes sense that Sears would seek the ability to create a similar tool of their own.
Without a doubt, the Max Axess Wrench is very heavily inspired by the Bionic Wrench. But it’s not a clone. There are significant differences, including the addition of a locking mechanism that sets a fixed opening for the jaws.
The company that manufactures the tools for Loggerhead has recently laid off nearly 3 dozen employees, although there has been no confirmation that this is a direct result of Sears not ordering Bionic Wrench to sell during the 2012 Christmas shopping season.
Loggerhead Tools is not going to have an easy chance confronting Sears in court over the matter. There seem to be too many differences in the designs. Designers and engineers for Apex Tool Group, who manufactures the Max Axess Wrench for Craftsman and Sears, likely combed over the patent to reduce the chance of punishable infringement.
Loggerhead Tools’ best tactic will probably be to drum up publicly support and to egg Craftsman and Sears as much as they can. They’re going to have to put on a show. Why do you think the NY Times ran a headline that focuses on how the Bionic Wrench is made in the USA and the Max Axess Wrench in China?
The best I can see happening is Loggerhead Tools winning some sort of a licensing agreement through a settlement. It seems unlikely that they will take the financial risk to pursue the issue in court since Sears has far deeper pockets.
Focusing on where the tools are manufactured only serves to raise emotions and cloud up the real issue. Loggerhead Tools and Sears were having difficulty coming to mutually amicable agreements, so Sears brought to market a version of their own.
I’m trying not to take sides. I always thought the Bionic Wrench was gimmicky, but practical, although I never purchased one. The Max Axess Wrench looks similarly gimmicky and practical, but has an added locking feature. Both look to be good tools.
A lot of people are huffing and puffing about this. After reading about the article I too am disappointed about how things went down. Even so, Sears might have made the correct business decision. If a vendor that makes a unique product won’t sell you their products to resell in stores ahead of the second largest consumer tool sales period during the year, a smart retailer plans for something else to take its place before the holiday shopping season comes around.
That Sears and Craftsman came out with their own similar-but-not-cloned version of the Bionic Wrench will possibly hurt Bionic Wrench sales. But the major hurt to Loggerhead Tools is not that Sears is selling the Max Axess Wrench, but that they’re selling it instead of the Bionic Wrench. Judging by the display bins I saw at stores last year and what the NYT article said about how well the tools sold at Sears last year, the losses will be great.
All I know is that this is a messy situation. However Sears and Loggerhead Tools settle their differences, there won’t be a resolution until 2013 at the earliest. This means that whatever happens, Loggerhead Tools is going to suffer greatly from lost sales.
It’s not uncommon for one brand to produce a tool heavily inspired by another – this happens all the time, especially with the new semi-gimmicky “innovations” coming out every year ahead of the Christmas and Father’s Day shopping seasons.
The fact that such business practices are commonplace doesn’t help the situation Loggerhead Tools is in.
As neutral and objective I’m trying to be, it pains me to know US workers linked to the production of the Bionic Wrench have lost their jobs. I have not spoken with anyone at Loggerhead Tools or their manufacturing partner Penn United Technologies, but it is presumed that fewer than expected holiday-times orders are at least partially if not entirely to blame.
I was initially outraged at about the situation, but now I just don’t know. Looking deeper, there seems to be a lot Loggerhead Tools could have done to protect themselves better. They put too many eggs in one basket and haven’t come out with anything new for some time. How about a ratcheting Bionic Wrench?
Right now my feelings about this are all sorts of wishy washy. But then again, that seems to be the point of the NY Times article – it almost seems like the major objective was to mark Loggerhead Tools a victim and Sears a villain. Whether or not that’s how the two companies deserve to be seen as is difficult to decide.
The article does not say that he refused to sell, but that he refused to sell for a discount after the deadline for that discount had passed, and that Sears accepted the higher price.
When the order for Father’s Day finally came, Mr. Brown said, it was too late to guarantee the lower price. He refused the order.
Sounds like they talked about a low price, Sears buyers took too long to agree, they placed an order too late, his costs had already risen due to the timing, and so he turned down the order. They wanted to buy the tools, he said no.
There’s no telling what would have happened even if the order was as both parties planned. Ignoring for a moment that there’s a Max Axess Wrench, the Bionic Wrench is one of those “must have/don’t need” tools that heavily relies on holiday season revenue. No Father’s Day sales at Sears must have hurt. Keep the tools out of Sears would hurt deeper. Throwing a Craftsman version into the mix only adds salt to the wound, it did not necessarily cause it. Maybe it did. Too many details about what happened between the two companies will never become public.
Does anyone really think this tool doesn’t look like a knockoff? Or are there people out there thinking changing the handle and the color counts for making it “different”.
I do think Max Axess is better than Bionic. Definitely it’s an improvement.
As I read the article, I kept thinking that the only way to out do the Chinese is too be smarter, not faster or cheaper.
He was actively negotiating the deal…….meanwhile he should have started production regardless……hedge his bets that Sears was going to place an order, so he should have been making his production process more efficient, and when Sears finally agreed to buy them, he could have had stock on hand already without telling Sears that.
And if Sears didn’t order them……..the agreement to not sell to HD or Lowe’s would have been cancelled…….thus he would have had tons of ready to go product for those chains to buy instead.
I’m no business expert obviously, but seems like this guy dug in his heels when he should have been making tools instead, but he kind of shot himself in the foot here. I think Sears is almost a dead company, but Craftsman did a smart thing, after they couldn’t get that father’s day order, they decided to do it themselves to reduce any uncertainty in the supply chain, with a supplier that could meet timelines and deliver a product in time for sales seasons.
If American companies cant even do that, no wonder everything is moving to China. Loggerhead, is not the hero in this tale…….they are unfortunately validating Bain capitals reasoning to not make things in America anymore.
It is obvious you don’t know anything about manufacturing or how retail works. Sears sold and advertised the Bionic Wrench fathers day 2012 and less than 4 months later had a knock off on the shelves that was made in China. They HAD to be making the knock-off WHILE they were advertising and selling the LoggerHead Bionic Wrench!
Here is an interesting read on the facts
Yes….. Of course they were making a knock off at the same time. So what. Loggerhead couldn’t deliver their product to Sears’ timeline……Sears found a new girlfriend before it dumped the old one. I don’t condone that, but in business it makes real sense.
Was Sears delaying their order on purpose then?….probably…..meanwhile designing their own product for cheaper…..that is obvious, and Loggerhead should have anticipated that when Loggerhead refused the order. And had contingency plans to sell to other retailers.
What also stands out is how Apex Tool Group adapted and improved the design, and produced a substantial quantity, in just a couple of months.
When’s the last time Loggerhead Tools came out with a new product? It looks like their newest product is over 5 years old. Regardless of how this issue with Sears plays out, they will now need to innovate to stay relevant.
It’s utterly irrelevant when Loggerhead came out with a new product, or how old the wrench is as long as the patent has not expired. Utterly irrelevant.
“Regardless of how this issue with Sears plays out, they will now need to innovate to stay relevant.” Really? Who made you a clairvoyant expert on the company? They do have other, newer successful products.
Thankfully you will not be testifying as an expert witness for either party in any litigation.
These days companies must innovate or they fade away.
Reality is that Loggerhead’s victory over Sears in courts is far from certain. If Sears successfully sells the Max Axess Wrench, next year there might be an even better Kobalt or Husky version. And then what?
Show me these newer successful products. I’m serious. I looked for them the other day, and all I saw were variations of the Bionic Wrench that came out years ago.
It’s not irrelevant at all. If Sears made their own verion that does not violate the Loggerhead patent then they did nothing wrong. This is what competition is all about and without it there would be no innovation.
I worked for a company that made OEM parts for automobiles and the competition was fierce. We constantly tore down new competitive products and looked for ways to make them better and less expensive without violating any patents. If we found a way then we would file our own patents and the cycle would continue.
In the 10 years I worked at this comapny the difference in the products we made over that time was staggering in terms of performance. Every time we made an improvement we would re-set the standard for our competitors. Our competitors would eventually launch their new version and re-set the standard again. Without this there is no motiviation for any company to make anything new.
A perfect example of this is cordless tools. Every year some major manufacturer launches something new that’s lighter, has more torque or a longer run time. The following year their competitors launch something better at a similar price. In the end we (the consumers) win with products that can make our jobs or lives easier or more productive.
I think you’re missing the point. It’s a patent, nobody’s saying that Craftsman can’t come out with a better tool that’s different. But you can’t take someones patent with a new innovation like this wrench and make it without rights to use the idea. That’s how we protect property in this county. That way if I write a book and you print the book with bold letters and start selling it. I can say “you’re a thief for stealing my idea” and you’d say “but I made it easier to read”…doesn’t matter. The intellectual property is the words not the style of letter. I’m really not trying to be condescending here, BUT I thought this was common sense. This is a new style of tool, there is a patent on the idea behind it, I don’t care if you can make a better one anymore than I care if you can make a book easier to read….ITS STILL NOT YOUR IDEA OR INTELLECTUAL property. In this case IT IS STEALING!
By the way. I do understand people work around patents and try to find changes. Usually, that is for a common product. IE, I’m sure when the socket wrench came out it was new and innovative. However, after years of changes and differences the patent becomes dilluted with various products. I don’t think this is the case. This is a new idea and the only reason sears had it was because they stole it, they didn’t have the idea. Good business is pay a royalty and truly make changes. I don’t think they did in this case.
Another strick aganist sears & crapsman. I too thought the bionic wrench was gimmiky. I will now purchase one. Anymore said, may drive me over the edge. Sears ain’t worth it. BOYCOTT SEARS!!!
Wrong analysis, why are you ignoring the most important feature which is copied – of a wrench which can be gripped like a plier. If this case goes to Jury the Chinese copy has no chance. So what if Sears is a giant with money.
Any case after hearing this I have no plan to ever buy a Sears Craftsman wrench.
There are many wrenches that have come and gone over the years . Most are pieces of crap. Just because these can be gripped like pliers doesn’t make them unique or similar.
Poor ol Sears had no choice but to copy this guys design and practically put him under because he wouldn’t sell it to them at the commie prices they wanted to pay. Whether or not they danced far enough around his patent to escape damages is irrelevant to the consumer. Sears has moved the vast majority of the Craftsman line to China without much effort to avoid it. Sears is nothing more than Commie craps peddlers and they have no place in my garage from here on out.
I remember years ago when I was in aviation mechanics classes the instructor would only accept craftsman as the tools we needed to use, I remember my father who poo poo’d japanese products asked why they were so expensive. I ddin’t think much about it, but he was buying cheap tools at Kmart. I wonder where they were made. Seems like so many are doing the same thing today
I work at Sears and if you boycott sears I lose my job, and to the people that claim everything is made over seas and if its not made in america its not good. That is BS. Sony, one of the biggest companies in Japan make ahhhmazing products. I would buy sony any day. Just remember WHY all your products are made in china, because the lazy baby boomers made it that way!!!! So go on blame everything on us 20 to 30 year olds even though that started when we were still in diapers.
Right on. The market has demanded cheaper products that American and Canadian companies cannot make at the same or similar prices. Look at the noise from Canada Goose about their jackets. Overpriced and no better quality than comes fro many factories around the world.IMO
Old post… but I just wanted to say frack sears for consistently exploiting inventors.
How much does Sears pay you? You have no shame.
Taking the facts and drawing my own opinions means I’m somehow paid by Sears?
Wow!! A little heated on this topic are we? Anyway wasn’t Sears sued years back over a wrench that was eerily similar? Whatever happened with that?
Eerily similar to the bionic wrench I meant to say
In 2017 Brown & Loggerhead won their lawsuit against Sears & Apex:
Sears is once again selling Loggerhead’s Bionic Wrench — presumably part of the terms of the settlement:
However, Sears is also still selling the Apex / Craftsman knockoff, and at a lower price:
We discussed this all in a separate post, here: