The reason? Because SparkFun’s multimeters, yellow with dark grey fronts, too closely resembled Fluke’s trademarked color schemes.
SparkFun has said that the 2,000 meters, with a retail value of $30,000, would have to be exported back overseas or destroyed. It’s a rather unfortunate lose-lose situation for them.
There are four things you need to know before you get angry at Fluke over this.
1. Companies can trademark colors, color schemes, and product appearances. This is to help prevent knock-off and look-alike products from causing confusion.
This is actually very commonly done. For instance, Dewalt’s yellow and black color scheme is trademarked and protected.
2. Companies MUST defend their trademarks and patents, even against smaller infringers and unintentional infringement. There’s no picking and choosing.
SparkFun is a very likable company, and although they were blindsided by the seizure, they’re not exactly blameless.
3. US Customs, or rather the Department of Homeland Security and US Customs and Border Protection seized the products. Fluke wasn’t aware of the activity.
4. Fluke’s President caught wind of the situation and responded. Here’s one part of it:
Earlier today we contacted SparkFun and offered to provide a shipment of genuine Fluke equipment, free of charge for them to sell on their site or donate. The value of the equipment exceeds the value of the Customs-held shipment. SparkFun can resell the Fluke gear, recouping the cost of their impounded shipment, or donate it into the Maker community.
The donation is a one-time action, but it’s one that has definitely been well-received by the maker community.
As mentioned, SparkFun is a very likable company, and their predicament led to a lot of admonishment and hostilities aimed at Fluke. Fluke could have just released a statement defending themselves, but they went above and beyond to clear up an unfortunate situation.
Fluke might also have the option of suing SparkFun for infringing on their trademarked looks, but it doesn’t look like that will happen.
SparkFun has said that they will donate the donated meters, so they’re still going to take a hit from the product seizure.
If you want to help SparkFun make up for the loss, go order some stuff from their website, such as the third hand kit we recently reviewed.