SparkFun, an electronics and hobbyist kits and parts supplier, posted this week about how their shipment of 2,000 multimeters was confiscated by US Customs after entry inspection at a port in Denver.
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.
“2,000 multimeters was confiscated by US Customers”
Customers => Customs
I made that same mistake 4 times. The one you caught slipped by during the final edit. Grr. I am apparently also incapable of typing “imagining,” and always type it out as “imagine.”
I’m guessing that the overseas manufacturer of these meters was not exactly “pure as the driven snow” either
The multimeter could have been any color in the world. Red with a black face, blue with a black face etc. but the manufacturer chose to use the Fluke yellow and dark grey fluke color. These are not random choices. A $15 dollar multimeter is not going to give you the safety or long term performance of a Fluke. I threw out a few Cheap Import multimeters before I bought a Fluke multimeter. Shame on both the manufacturer and Sparkfun, as both of them knew exactly,what they were doing and they got caught. Story is not over yet as Sparkfun has a noncontact temperature device and a USB check device as well as a tool kit that are all copies of,Flukes Trademarked goods.
I am sure that, after this incident, the leadership at SparkFun will initiate a store-wide inspection of other SparkFun-branded tools. It’s the prudent thing to do.
Way to go Fluke!
Companies can trademark colors, color schemes, and product appearances, yeah.
But they ALL have to come together to constitute a case of infringement. A company cannot just trademark a color or color scheme or product appearance, and then go after anyone or anything that uses those colors or color scheme or shapes. Otherwise, there would only be a few hundred products in the world, or at least a lot more really ugly and odd-shaped ones.
Knockoffs and counterfeits are when the product itself, as well as the packaging, either directly copies, or is close enough that a reasonable person would think they are getting a Fluke meter.
I could see if these meters were branded as something like Fluk, Flukk, etc. etc, and the packaging was a complete ripoff of the Fluke design, but it’s not.
Customs messed up here. Fluke should have said so publicly, and come out against the seizure. Despite their gestures of “goodwill”, it is obvious to anyone who uses Fluke products that these are not Fluke meters, nor are they trying to pretend to be Fluke meters. The product packaging doesn’t even begin to pretend these are Fluke meters.
Not that this doesn’t happen every day at US customs, they “seize” a lot of things that then mysteriously wind up on the market after they were supposed to be “destroyed”.
If they don’t admit their mistake, hopefully they wind up being shipped back overseas and sold in a country with more sense in it’s enforcement of trademarks.
The color scheme would really confuse someone unless they were fortunate enough to notice that it says sparkfun on both the packaging and device, that the packaging and design is different and that there wallet was 150 dollars heavier.
It’s important to realize that once Fluke won the enforcement order, they had nothing to do with this particular confiscation, which happened years later. It was just Customs doing their job. It’s not like a Fluke representative there, was pointing out infringing shipments at the border.
It’s great Fluke stepped up to the plate and supported the Maker community.
I’m sure spark fun is a little guilty in ignoring the “trade mark issues”. I am sure the maker of the meter was fully aware of piggy back riding on a top of the line brand. The meters back is all yellow and does not have any other colors. I own a few hand held multimeters and fluke is the only one with a solid yellow black.
I think it is pretty simple to see…
It is admirable how fluke reacted though.
I’m sure spark fun is a little guilty in ignoring the “trade mark issues”. I am sure the maker of the meter was fully aware of piggy back riding on a top of the line brand. The meters back is all yellow. I own a few hand held multimeters and fluke is the only one with a solid yellow back.
I think it is pretty simple to see if you google image the following brands….
spark fun????? you cant get any more cheap sounding than that.sounds like something id find in the aisles at cvs pharmacy…
This is a class act by Fluke. I will be supporting them in the future.