Fluke, we love you but you're killing us.

SparkFun is forced to incinerate 2,000 multimeters because they are yellow.

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Today (March 20, 2014), Fluke reached out to us. Here is what they had to say. SparkFun has officially accepted their offer and will be donating the Fluke multimeters to several educational institutions and schools.


Part of SparkFun’s business model is to find really cool items that every hacker and DIY electronics person needs. A digital multimeter is one of those “must-haves.” We started sourcing a really great high-quality $15 multimeter back in 2008. This price-point enables countless beginners to get their feet wet in electronics.

Fast forward six years and many thousands of multimeters sold. On March 7th, we were notified by the Department of Homeland Security/US Customs and Border Protection that our latest shipment of 2,000 multimeters was being inspected:

Fluke SparkFun Homeland Security Letter

This is to advise you that the following articles have been excluded from entry into the United States pursuant to US International Trade Commission Exclusion Order 337-TA-588.

Uh-oh. Ok. 337-TA-588 is formally titled: “Certain Digital Multimeters, and Products with Multimeter Functionality.” You can grab the large 20.7MB PDF here. This is 162 pages of companies (Velleman, Harbor Freight, Elenco, Electronic Express, and Jameco to name a few) that have been brought under scrutiny by the US International Trade Commission because these companies were selling:

digital multimeters and products with multimeter functionality that have a contrasting color combination of a dark-colored body or face and a contrasting yellow border, frame, molding, overlay, holster or perimeter.

What do our multimeters have to do with this? Turns out Fluke filed for a trademark in 2000 and received it in late 2003. Fluke’s trademark number is 2796480 (thanks larrys on ycombinator). The USPTO website doesn’t like hard links so here’s another site that has their trademark info. The multimeters we sell have a yellow-ish border (it’s more like macaroni and cheese really) so we may be violating Fluke’s trademark. From Fluke’s Trademark filing:

Rough sketch of Fluke DMM

Fluke Coporation’s rough sketch of a digital multimeter

Indication of Colors claimed: Color is not claimed as a feature of the mark.

Description of Mark: The mark consists of the colors dark gray and yellow as applied to the goods. The dotted outline of the goods is intended to show the position of the mark and is not a part of the mark.

Wow. I feel for the US Customs and Border Protection agents who have to interpret this. I don’t fully understand it but it sounds like any measurement device with a yellow border is now under the domain of Fluke’s branding.

Yellow is awfully broad: In my mind, multimeters have always been yellow. I’ve never had the opportunity to own a Fluke-branded DMM so I’m not sure where my brain picked up this association. I can respect trademarks and company branding and I respect Fluke’s reputation for high-quality multimeters. If Fluke wants to own a color I would expect the USPTO to require them to assign an exact color just like Tiffany’s did with Tiffany Blue. But allowing a company to trademark ‘yellow’ seems broad.

Wicked burden on small business: Trademark law is heavily skewed towards large business. Small business does not have the resources to stay abreast of all trademarks for all the products they don’t carry. If you’re going to put the onus on the little guy to avoid infringing IP then you shouldn’t need an army of consultants or attorneys to find this information. We will lose $30,000 on this shipment. But the cost of the legal legwork and manpower to make sure we don’t violate a future color seems unreasonable and simply not feasible.

No recourse: Our multimeters are actually kind of orange, not Fluke yellow. The document from the Department of Homeland Security is matter of fact. Where is the opportunity for recourse? What is the appeals process? Because of a $150 per day warehousing fee we are forced to decide quickly with limited legal guidance and mounting penalty costs.

Decide between bad and worse: So we really only have two options, ship them back or have them destroyed. Having them destroyed costs $150 per hour with no indication of how much time it will take to destroy 2,000 units. Returning them has been ruled out by the manufacturer in China because the import taxes in China are so steep (yay free trade) that bringing them back into the country to have them modified would be more expensive than paying for the return shipping and taxes. Between bad and worse, we have to have them destroyed. Sorry Earth.

A message to Fluke: You’re cool! We like Fluke. We didn’t know about your trademark on yellow framed multimeters and we agree to change our colors. Perhaps we can be granted a 60-day license? There’s probably not enough time (the DMMs will be destroyed in a few days) but perhaps there’s a chance. We’d be happy to donate them to the cause of your choice.

Things you don't know you don't know

Image credit: jangosteve.com

So where does this leave us? The stuff you don’t know you don’t know hurts the most. We were out of stock before this seizure happened so, sorry folks, we’ll be out of stock for a bit longer. We’ll change the DMMs from yellow to red. We’ll eat the $30,000 financial loss and 2,000 multimeters will be destroyed somewhere in Los Angeles. We learned a little more about trademarks. If you’re a business, watch out for yellow multimeters. If you’re a user, enjoy the glory of the Fluke yellow.


Comments 327 comments

  • Note to self: Never buy Fluke products.

    • In fairness though, as mentioned elsewhere in this thread, Fluke does make solid stuff. If you need a more industrial strength DMM or are working with circuits that can kill you a Fluke is probably better than the SparkFun DMMs in question, which are geared more towards the hobbyist. The real problem here isn’t necessarily Fluke being bullies, it’s the burdensome shadow of US trademark law.

      • Problem is that the Customs folk don’t just arbitrarily start enforcing the trademark, they have to have a complaint from the trademark holder, so Fluke is really at fault here.

        • Fluke’s hands are tied as well – they had no choice but to complain. The reason is because US trademark law is structured on a use it or lose it basis. If you have a trademark, you must not only use it in commerce but also vigorously defend it.

          Sparkfun might have some luck reaching out to Fluke directly – there are ways to resolve this that don’t require smashing the multimeters and protect Fluke’s trademark rights.

          • I think everybody is missing the point of this write-up. Nobody should be able of copyrighting something as trivial as ‘dark-coloured body against a yellow border.’ That is utter garbage and leaves it wide open for Fluke to sue anybody that makes multimeters with two colors. That is the same crap Apple pulled against Samsung over the Galaxy. Turns out Apple owns the right to selling ‘rectangular phones with rounded corners.’

            A copyright filing should be practical and takes into consideration real-world scenarios. That right there is greed and since I’ve never owned an Apple product because of that Samsung fiasco, the same way I’d steer clear of Fluke and their stuff.

            • The point of the write up is that Sparkfun thinks the criteria of the copyright is BS. The point that they, and you, seem to be missing, is that regardless of that BS, their meter clearly resembles a Fluke meter. None of this “but our meter is actually kind of orange”. Go look at a Fluke 17B. Go look at the picture. Its a knock off, plain and simple. It may not have been intentional, but it’s here, clear as day.

                • I wasn’t able to open linked Fluke image but I googled for it. If these two meters are the same then just about any handheld multimeter on this planet should be considered an infringement by Fluke. And I guess they happily would. Total BS! Like SF guys say, this is too generic of a definition. Fluke should be required to use specific pantone color numbers if they want a trademark on a color and should be required to use only that color exactly for their meters.

                  As for use it or lose it, Fluke could have just contacted SF and said “hey guys, pick another color, this one’s ours”. I’m sure SF would oblige without having to lose $30k and filling landfill with what used to be a perfectly good product.

                  Like someone said: note to self - screw Fluke and never buy their product.

                  Oh, btw, a bit of childish humor: in polish word fluke means a bugger. As in the one picked from your nose :) Just spelled without the “e”

                  • The trouble with “required to use specific Pantone color numbers” is that it doesn’t provide any useful protection for the trademark holder. A competitor could (would, surely) build a meter that looks exactly like a Fluke, but in court they’d claim “Oh, no, we were very careful not to infringe not their mark. See? When you hold our meter next to theirs, our yellow is clearly a little different. They specified Pantone 109, so we were very careful not to use that color. We used Pantone 110 instead.”

                    Turn the situation around. What if I started selling electronic components and tools over the web. I’m sure nobody at SparkFun would mind – they seem very open to friendly competition. But then I start shipping my products in red boxes with white lettering – not SparkFun red, mind you, but some other shade of bright red. And, lets imagine that my products were of relatively low quality compared to SparkFun’s, and that my prices were also much lower than theirs. Would SparkFun do something about it? Maybe they would, maybe they wouldn’t, but they’d at least have legitimate cause to feel pretty cheesed off about the situation. And their lawyer might tell them that whether they liked it or not, they really had to take action.

                    • I’m sorry but I disagree, many companies register specific colours for there trademarks and branding. What if Caterpillar release a DMM for there service technicians? Who wins that law suit? Caterpillar with there registered tone or Fluke with EVERY TONE THAT COULD BE INTERPRETED AS YELLOW. Just how orange does there trademark cover? Or any other tone with a yellow base.

                      Fluke just lost my vote, and I have several Fluke meters including a 8845 which are not yellow.

                    • The point remains, this is a shady and underhanded tactic and it’s a big company sh!tting all over the little guy over $30,000! that’s nothing compared to fluke’s annual income. Broad sweeping, generalized patents are just a tool used to monopolize. Perhaps if Fluke issued a warning instead of pulling some sort of mafia style BS, then that would hold up. But this event is clearly immoral and unethical. Anyone who is looking for a cheaper DMM is probably doing so for a reason; so fluke isn’t just screwing over sparkfun, they’re screwing over any consumer looking for a cheaper alternative because that’s all they can afford or perhaps that’s all they really need. It makes more sense for me to buy a Honda than for me to buy a Mercedes; so I don’t need Mercedes forcing Honda to jack up its' prices over a patent on all blue 4 door vehicles which Mercedes enforces like an SS officer.

                • Nice post. It’s very clearly NOT a knock off it is very much a unique product. This was a complete waste of time.

              • Here’s a roughly to-scale comparison. IMHO we’re in similar territory to the “rounded corners” battle that’s been raging so destructively in the world of mobile phones & tablets.

                • Who the heck will think a “sparkfun” meter is a freakin' FLUKE!!!! If someone is that confused, I wanna know why they work were they work LOL

              • Of course they resemble Fluke meters. That’s not in dispute. What’s in dispute is:

                (a) the way that Fluke and USPTO/Customs went about “notifying” Sparkfun was in bad faith. They left SparkFun with no recourse but to eat $30K.

                (b) current US trademark law unfairly burdens small businesses and hampers the free market. Trade dress protection is such BS. The $15 DMMs don’t have a Fluke logo on them anywhere. No one would confuse them. You can’t convince me Fluke was damaged due to the similarity simply because nobody who knows about Fluke DMMs actually believes they’d get the same quality from a $15 Chinese facsimile and those that don’t know about Fluke DMMs aren’t going to spend $100+ on a DMM.

          • I disagree.. Fluke could have sent a cease and desist letter to Sparkfun.. They could have sued in civil court, but to use this process leaves Sparkfun in a lose-lose situation, with no downside for Fluke and no way for Sparkfun to even state their side without paying daily fines to store the items. Fluke is being a corporate bully, and I have bought my last Fluke product.

          • I’m curious if they have been diligent enough already to maintain their rights to this mark. There are tons of other brands of multimeter with this color scheme, and we have been selling ours for a good while as well. It appears, just based on a Google Shopping search that they have been pretty lax about defending it.

          • Fluke did not have to trademark the colour yellow. Common sense says they shouldn’t have been able to, but common sense also says they shouldn’t have tried.

            I used to hold Fluke in high esteem. I have dozens of their instruments at work, and was happy to pay a little extra just because I liked their stuff. But I’m not happy with Fluke’s trademark policy. These days there are plenty of high quality alternatives, and henceforth I’ll be researching non-yellow meters for my needs.

          • Not really, they could offer a temporary license and then Sparkfun wouldn’t lose 30,000 dollars and create a ton of waste. Perhaps even under the condition that they must be donated to hackerspaces. Or just add a disclaimer to the packaging or product page that it is not affiliated with Fluke. This is totally Fluke’s fault.

          • Well, a big issue here is that there are already counterfeit products made to look like Fluke products. When I was shopping on ebay for a multimeter, I had to make sure I didn’t buy a knockoff by accident.

            So what Sparkfun has is a product that looks like a counterfeit, in a market which is already vigilant about counterfeits. If you look at a Fluke 17B, you’ll see the two meters are pretty similar.

            When I see some guy selling MP3 players made to look like iPods, I don’t run to the FBI or whoever. But if he lost 30k trying to import them from China, I wouldn’t shed a tear, either.

            That said, I don’t think Sparkfun was trying to hoodwink anyone. I do think it is unfortunate that their meter so closely resembles a Fluke, and the penalty they face is unreasonable.

            • This is a good point (as are many others in this thread). It’s a meter we’ve sold for awhile, have our name on it, and are not at all claiming that it’s a Fluke, or even a knock-off of a Fluke. It’s a cheap $15 meter that looks similar. It gets the job done; nothing less, nothing more.

              • Sparkfun whining about this is making themselves look petty, it is a business just like Fluke. They have a brand to protect. You wouldn’t get upset if Coke stopped some Chinese company from trying to sell a cola in a can that had a very similar color scheme to theirs. A designer deliberately tried to make this look like a Fluke meter because they are known for quality. If the market is full of cheap DMM’s that look similar people aren’t going to look at a Fluke product and immediately think quality.

              • Was that pun intentional? Fluke? Knock-off?

            • Thank you sir! Exactly the point I made earlier!

          • (USPTO|Fluke|DHS) could have reached out to SparkFun BEFORE they made the order rather than surreptitiously seizing a shipment as it went through the port. I’m sure Nate & co would have complied with a cease & desist rather than forfeit $30K in product. The manner in which they decided to go about it was disingenuous, inconsiderate, feeble, pathetic, deplorable and decidedly unamerican. They come out looking like the mafia.

    • Note to everyone else, Leave them some feedback. http://en-us.fluke.com/customer-service/feedback/

      • Also, it appears that SparkFun’s loyal customers are currently blowing up Fluke’s Facebook page! https://www.facebook.com/fluke.corporation Let ‘em have it! If you search the comments below, you will also find phone numbers for their PR department…

        Fluke needs to understand that those that they hurt here (especially children learning electronics) are their future engineering customers. And also, when Mommy or Daddy are engineers who use Fluke products professionally, they often try to have their children follow in their footsteps and teach them with devices such as the aforementioned meters from SparkFun. How do they think those people will feel when they see this?

        If Fluke needs to lower themselves to setting up bogus trademarks based on a color scheme, then that tells me that they aren’t as concerned about the quality and technical aspects of their products as they should be. And, that means it’s time to shop for a new test equipment manufacturer!

    • I love my fluke equipment, however I just cancelled my order for a Fluke 62 Max + & Fluke 289. Yesterday I did receive 4 SparkFun Yellow DMMs for an upcoming workshop.

      I also just called Fluke HQ in Everett WA 1-425-347-6100, PR Rep’s extension is x5890

      I have no issue with them trademarking at specific yellow, i.e. UPS Brown, Tiffany Blue.

      Not cool @FlukeCorp

    • Really? Then you’ll never have the best.

      So there are a lot of armchair experts who feel like supporting their favorite electronics supplier in this imagined clash with Fluke, that’s nice. I guess it shows how many people like SparkFun, I’m one of them. But just try importing some sports shoes with three stripes on the side or smartphones decorated with chrome silhouettes of Malus domestica, the same thing will happen. When you look at a gray meter with a yellow border you think Fluke; that’s the value of the brand and allowing some budget meter to ape it is not on. Why don’t companies that have spent millions over decades building a brand get to defend it?

      Too bad nobody thought to blame the slimy knockoff artists who tried to make these meters as Fluke-like as possible.

      • I agree that fluke makes GREAT products, however, I don’t think “Fluke” when I see yellow.. I think “Fluke” when I see the price tag. I have no problems with companies protecting intellectual property, however this is akin to if Henry Ford had patented “Black” as a car color. It is absurd, and any company who has to rely on this type of bullying is trying to remain “best” by doing away with what they fear is a competitive product at a good price rather than improving their own product, and the result is stagnant quality and less choices for increasing prices. The only ones getting rich are the lawyers, and we get less choice.

        Fluke might be the “best” at some things, but for other things, like a small meter that I consider disposable and can keep in the glovebox, fluke is NOT the best, and if I choose to buy something else, what difference is it that it is “Yellow”? All the other trademark examples you gave are shapes/patterns or pictures.. Those are more reasonable trademarks.. “Yellow” is unreasonably broad

      • At one time, Fluke WAS undeniably the best. But in today’s world, there are several other major manufacturers that also make excellent products. So, there are plenty of other options without spending a dime on Fluke.

  • Donate them to a School for the color blind. This is really stupid

    • Hah! That’s a really good idea. I’d love to donate them instead of destruction. We’ll try but the nature of the trade laws is these are seen as counterfeit so donating them inside the US is probably out of the question. International school for the colorblind? There must be a Far Side comic in there somewhere.

      • Can we send them to Sierra Leone (https://www.facebook.com/InnovateSalone)?

        • Excellent! We’re currently running down some ideas. The currently barrier seems to be that CBP won’t allow us to split up the shipment.

        • I was just about to suggest this, If you guys are looking at the donation side vs destruction. I graduated with a guy from an African nation and he told me the schools there have very horrible electronic equipment that is often outdated and broken (usually old stuff that served its use in the US and then sent there). I havnt checked their copyright laws, but i would be surprised if they care about the color of the case.

          • Same here. A good friend of mine is a pediatrician in Uganda setting up an innovation space at MUST. I’m sure he could facilitate forwarding units on to others in need around the region as well. I know Sparkfun also has contacts in Uganda, but if you’d like to reach out to my guy, I can put you in touch and make things move swiftly.

            IF, of course, CBP allows you to ship the units somewhere other than from whence they came. For what it’s worth since they never technically entered the US, I don’t think anyone could claim you’re “exporting” them (trademarked or otherwise).

      • Or, you guys could ship them to the robotics non-profit I started in Uganda.

        You’ve supported Fundi Bots before, and in fact, Linz Craig has taught down here with us (sorry for name dropping, Linz!)

        https://learn.sparkfun.com/blog/1253

        Seriously though, it would help reach tens of thousands of students, and you’d still come out on top. Heck your red boxes are a prominent feature in our trainings.

        Let me know if we can work something out.

        It would seriously suck to see these go to waste!

  • I realize you guys can’t really say anything negative about a company that I assume supplies and supports some of the tools you use, but as a consumer: Fluke and the USPTO can shove it. This country’s intellectual property system is a cancer that does nothing but hurt the people who can’t afford to fight back.

    • I won’t lie to you - we were looking at sourcing a 115, 117 or 177. I’ve got a 117 here and a 187 at home. I love them. But this is just the sort of thing that makes you want to stand up and do something. I dunno. I’m just bummed about it.

      • You guys are missing something here. Didn’t Fluke invent the protective sleeve and make it yellow as part of their trade dress? Isn’t the yellow on your import misleading because it is not a removable bumper?

        And really, isn’t it obvious this is intended to look like a Fluke? SF should man-up. It took a long time and a lot of work for Fluke to get where they are. I used to have a high voltage supply (I used for calibrating photomultipliers) from Fluke, a 5kV supply with rotary switches all the way down to 0.1 volt steps and it was dead on. This kind of thing is not easy. What is Sparkfun’s investment in the meter business? Why all the noise?

        • Oh, please. No one is going to confuse a $15 knockoff with a real Fluke. Anyone who is willing to spend $100+ on a Fluke DMM knows the difference and anyone who doesn’t know the difference isn’t going to spend the coin. The yellow trademark is a red herring.

          • There you have it. Knockoffs are OK because they are knockoffs? The hobby electronics audience is an eclectic mix and the fuzzy ideas about ownership are pretty surprising. Ethics, logic, and reason should be enough. Boohoo! I want mine to look like a Fluke! Make a DIY meter of your own and nobody cares. Mass produce them and are you harming anyone? (Aside from the silly idea that no one will buy a Fluke unless they are an expert. Can’t you buy them at any Snap-On truck?)

            If anyone has one of these, is there a real CE logo? Or perhaps the “China Export” symbol meant to look like CE? That can get a shipment stopped as well.

            • Technically, it’s not a knockoff because it doesn’t say “FLUKE” anywhere on it. Personally, I don’t care what it looks like. I have a $15 digital multimeter (GB GDT-11) that looks nothing like a Fluke, but I didn’t buy it for its looks.

              I will concede that some may opt for the more expensive Fluke, but I’m positive that few would base the purchase solely upon color. Poll a bunch of folks and ask them if they’d buy the black $15 GB GDT-11 or a $150 Fluke 117. Now poll a bunch of other folks and ask them if they’d buy the yellow $15 SparkFun meter or a $150 Fluke 117. I believe the difference would be nonexistent or statistically insignificant.

              Now, if you polled a bunch of other folks and ask them if they’d buy the black $15 GB GDT-11 or the yellow $15 SparkFun meter, the SparkFun meter may beat out the GDT-11. But that’s irrelevant as it doesn’t affect Fluke’s bottom line.

              I simply believe that the importance of protected trade dress is overstated in many cases.

  • If you haven’t spent $300 talking to a local trademark lawyer it’s past time to do that. Safety yellow on a piece of electrical equipment is ridiculously generic. “Generic” is a magic word in trademark law. It means that even if the trademark was once valid, it no longer is.

  • That is a shame. Don’t see how anyone is going to confuse a $15 DMM sold by a business targeting hobbyists with a Fluke meter. A lot of waste for no reason. Guess that explains why the freebie meter I picked up over the weekend from the cheap tool store is red. I hope SF can get their new red models in quickly, I have one of the yellow ones and it’s a great meter for the price. I’ve picked up a few that cost just a few bucks less and the difference is huge in terms of quality and accuracy.

  • A shame to see good beginner meters destroyed. :(

  • I just phoned Fluke, and went through the maze of support folks, finally getting to one who was able to understand the degree to which Fluke is shooting itself in the foot. Obviously, some WAY overzealous Fluke lawyers are at the bottom of this debacle. The Fluke employee I spoke to was able to pull up this Sparkfun post, and promises to forwarding it to someone at Fluke for consideration. I like Fluke products, even if pricey, because they are very high quality. I hate to see one more fine old American manufacturer drowned by the Chinese electro-tsunami. I sincerely hope that this post gets in front of someone at Fluke with enough brainpower to realize how severely they are damaging their reputation with lawyers devoid of common sense.

  • IANAL, but while researching importation details for our 3D printing supplies (at toybuilderlabs.com), I went through a lot of CBP docs.

    IIRC, CBP entries held in bonded warehouses may be visited for modification prior to entry. You may potentially be able to modify the meters by removing the yellow shells and reclassifying the parts as multimeter innards (i.e., parts, not finished goods), possibly changing your tariff rate to offset the cost of such an action.

    For some violations, if you have a suitable bond, you could actually enter the product and correct the violation - but I have a feeling this course will not be available in this case.

    You might also be able to find a longer-term bonded warehouse in the US, or perhaps re-export to Mexico or Canda without entry into the US, and at least land the items where they can be trucked in later after appropriate steps are taken?

    I am sympathetic to what has happened to you, as my parents had to deal with similar issues when they used to run an import business. The Customs Office takes their job quite seriously - while we might like to think it’s trivial, counterfeit goods are quite serious - not just economic losses, but possibly life threatening in extreme cases. Obviously, not so extreme in this situation, but there is sufficient likeness of “trade dress” to at least cause some confusion. It may be that there was an even more explicit counterfeit-like clones of Fluke meters (by someone else) that prompted heightened awareness, and SparkFun caught the tail end of that vigilance?

    (originally posted on Reddit)

  • Here is Fluke Corp.’s Facebook page. Let’s give ‘em a little feedback: https://www.facebook.com/fluke.corporation

    • Please play nice. Fluke is cool. Their meters are solid. Trademark law, the lack of ability to appeal to a US Customs decision, and the penalties are my main issues.

      • This would not have been brought up to Homeland Security without Fluke complaining about it and causing all of this energy and effort to be focused on incoming shipments. So I blame Fluke….. but on the flipside I am mad as hell that China is raking in money on the backs of American companies and infringing on their patents. There are ALOT of chinese knockoffs that make their way here. This situation is a bit different. US Customs took it upon themselves to assert the trademark claim and stop the shipment. They should have alerted the trademark holder of a possible infringement and leave it up to the trademark holder to send someone over and inspect it and determine if it is counterfeit or feasible to sue or send a cease and desist order.

        • If someone tells a trademark holder about a violation, the holder has no choice. and Fluke makes really good DMM,

    • This is a rare case where I’m not rooting for the little guy. If I owned a company that made a very high quality product and all these shitty knock-offs started flooding the market, I’d be pretty pissed off. The whole purpose of these meters looking the way they do is to look like a Fluke meter - they don’t look that way by chance. Fluke isn’t bullying anyone, I think they’re totally justified in this case.

      • The thing is, though, you’d be hard-pressed to find a manufacturer that doesn’t have at least one yellow-and-“dark” multimeter design in their catalog. Even big-name, respected brands! Whether it’s this Chauvin-Arnoux, this Metrel Tek473, or this kick-ass Megger (which I guess maybe doesn’t count, because it’s analog?), it’s not like the design is really as distinctively and unmistakably theirs as Fluke’s trademark is implying.

        • for the love of all electronic tell me you have dates on those. or can find a picture of one from before March 1 2000.

      • Except SparkFun isn’t trying to make a knock-off. A multimeter is a multimeter. There aren’t a lot of different directions you can go with their design. I could understand where Fluke is coming from if these had a Fluke logo on them or even no logo at all. But they very clearly have a SparkFun logo. This is just another case of a large company taking advantage of our screwed up IP laws to stomp on small businesses. Or at the very least, it’s a case of the USPTO enforcing a vague trademark description too broadly.

        • Except SparkFun isn’t making anything, just re-selling a cheaply available product sourced from a place that does not respect copyright, trade dress or anything much as long as there’s a buck in it. They figure multimeters that look just like those expensive American Flukes are more appealing, so that’s what they made. Not cool. They could have been any color and they didn’t have to mimic the Fluke shape, but they do.

      • Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I’d be flattered.

        Now, if these $15 meters were in fact similar in quality to my more expensive branded meters, well then yes, I’d be pretty pissed off then too - but only because because someone would be knocking down a house of cards on which I depended.

    • Fluke is deleting all comments.

  • You have to admit that at a glance they do look a lot like Fluke’s meters in the picture, but with anything more than a casual glance it clearly has a Sparkfun logo and not Fluke’s. Seems you can claim just about anything as a trademark or patent anymore.

    • Yea, it’s hard to say whether Fluke has done such an amazing job at branding that we all think Fluke yellow is the color of DMMs or if they are simply capitalizing on a color arrangement we all generically know as ‘multimeter’. Either way I agree with you: they got a trademark on something too broad.

      • Roughly 30 years ago, Fluke indeed came out with the first yellow handheld multimeter. (Their 70 Series, introduced in the early 1980s.) There were no yellow handheld multimeters before this time. If “multimeters have been yellow for as long as you can remember”, then it is because your memory does not go back farther than 30 years.

        • your memory does not go back farther than 30 years

          This is, to be fair, objectively true of many of us. :)

          • I had an gray fluke back in the early 80s in school and my personal favorite at the time was a YELLOW beckman 310 dmm with a cool leather like vinyl case. It had a nice large rotary dial, where the schools flukes as I recall had push buttons on the side, like some of the B&Ks

            I didn’t buy my first fluke till they went to a rotary dial. I even recall Simpson made a 260 in yellow… Don’t remember when that was.

          • Also, 30 years ago, it wasn’t so easy to see the variety of multimeters out there. I don’t remember seeing any yellow multimeters 30 years ago, but all I really knew was what Radio Shack carried.

            • probably back when Radio Shack had better tools.

              the soldering iron i got from there, about a year ago, was glowing orange in less than 10 minutes

        • I actually own a Fluke DMM…that dates back to the Carter administration.

          It’s gray.

    • You have to admit that at a glance they do look a lot like Fluke’s meters in the picture

      After googling for ‘fluke multimeter’ - sure. On the other hand, at first glance it looked just like ‘a multimeter’ to me. Display in top, big round knob in the middle, two leads coming out.. yup, that’s a multimeter alright. The colors don’t matter as much to me, and definitely don’t put the name ‘Fluke’ in my mind, though I have come to expect most multimeters to be yellow in one way or another ever since my Focon FO-500.

      The same way I’ve come to associate forklifts with the same yellow/dark grey color scheme (probably due to most heavy machinery using those colors). The colors don’t specifically make me think ‘Hyster’ or ‘CAT’, but whenever I see an orange one (Toyota) at one of our colleagues, I do think “that’s an odd color for a forklift”.

      I guess at least Fluke’s trademark isn’t worldwide - Sealey’s multimeters would run afoul as well.

      • It goes the other way too.. To someone that is unfamiliar with electronic equipment and they buy one of these and it’s complete shit and breaks after a month, the next time they see a similar looking Fluke, they might think “Oh yeah I had one of those meters, and they suck ass”

  • These meters claim to have a “Cat III” rating. I seriously doubt these cheap meters have the high power resistors and fuses required for a Cat III rating. That makes them dangerous as well as suspiciously similar in appearance to Fluke. If you ask me the manufacturer should be eating the $30K (or at least the wholesale price) for trying to sell you “Cat III” meters that aren’t actually designed for that capability. Does anyone have one of these and can confirm they do not have the high voltage ceramics and blast secured fuses required for such a rating?

  • Since an iPhone can be used as a measurement device, I guess all the yellow ones MUST be stopped and rejected at the border now. Sorry Apple.

  • Also, your meter has a knob. Fluke meters also have a knob. How dare you infringe on that!

    Also you’d better take all of the knobs off of your doors, cabinet doors, old televisions, etc. before they come and tell you that your house is a trademark violation.

  • Can you send ~10 SF employees equipped with red sharpies to the warehouse to color or deface the borders of the multimeters? They’d only have to color 200 multimeters each…

  • The US Trademark office has catered to large businesses for too long. Trademark law says you can’t trademark a common word, yet Microsoft got a trademark on “Word”, and “Office”. This is another ridiculous example of how vague trademarks hurt small business and the economy in general; not to mention the environment. Fluke is as much to blame for this as the US patent office. I see no reason to let Fluke off the hook on this. I will personally ban Fluke products from my company.

  • Ok, is someone really going to confuse one of these with a Fluke??? It says Spark Fun right on it! The world has clearly gone mad…

    • You absolutely got it, SMOTP! Fluke don’t make a DMM costing $15, and never has. The Fluke DMM I have been using, the 289, now sells for $540! (nobody with a working brain would ever confuse the two.) It’s all about using lawyers to create greed gone mad, and sooner or later, that greed will kill the company. Sure sorry to see it go…

  • Fluke have responded on fscebook. Seems pretty decent to me.

    Over the last 24 hours, we’ve been watching the conversation around SparkFun. We’ve wanted to join the conversation sooner, but needed to make sure we had all the information in front of us so we could help find the best solution. Thank you for your patience.

    Like any organization that designs and manufactures electronics, we actively work to stop lookalike products from making it to the marketplace. We do this to protect our company and the jobs of our employees. We also do so because it is a matter of safety for our customers. Our tools are used in high-energy industrial environments, where precision and safety is an absolute necessity.

    I mention this because we firmly believe that we must be – and will continue to be – vigilant in protecting Fluke and our customers. One step in doing that was registering a trademark protecting the look and feel of our devices so our customers know that if it looks like a Fluke it’s a Fluke.

    It’s important to know that once we’ve filed for and received trademark protection, US Customs has the responsibility to determine what to stop at the border, or what to seize. In this case, we first learned of this issue from SparkFun’s blog.

    We understand how troubling this is for a small company serving the needs of DIY-ers and hobbyists. Here is what we are going to do.

    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.

    While we will continue to enforce our trademark, we are taking this one-time action because we believe in the work of SparkFun supporting the Maker and education communities. This is important to us. We have been supporters of the Maker community for years through the donation of over half a million dollars worth of tools and employee time to organizations like First Robotics.

    We look forward to continuing our support of the community, of our customers, and of all the innovators out there.

    Sincerely,

    Wes Pringle President, Fluke Corporation

    • Well I am impressed with their response. Love the fact that Sparkfun will donate them, classy and the correct move on both parties part.

  • I too loved Fluke, but frankly their products have become less than wonderful in a few lines, and their business practices have gotten a bit grabby or greedy. They are the only network testing manufacturer that requires you to buy incredibly expensive support just to get firmware updates which should be included to begin with. And their test gear used to be fantastic, now it’s overly complicated and with pathetic UI design.

    Sorry, not exactly on topic, but my sympathy for Fluke is rather limited, although the point about knockoffs is valid. Since most of what you’re paying for is the name, I’ve moved on to other vendors that have good reviews from places like eevblog, whenever possible.

  • This is ridiculous! If accepting white, black and gray as colors, the world is still limited to 45 test equipment vendors if others follow suit with broad two-color trademarks. And if they lock up individual colors like those shoe people tried…

    At my day job, our electronics lab has several Fluke meters, some yellow/gray and some just gray, so in a decade of EE I never associated this with being “Fluke Colored” (as others have mentioned, the yellow part of a Fluke meter is a removable, and presumably optional, rubber cover - several of ours don’t include one.)

    Side story: At said day-job we recently developed a measurement instrument for aviation, whose primary customer is the US Navy. At some point the subject of color preference came up - it turns out they have standards! Bright orange (suggested as it happens to be used in the company’s logo/branding) was very well-received - apparently a standard color for removable test equipment, followed by yellow or yellow+gray or yellow+black. Incidentally, black with a yellow border is the standard colorcode for “special calibration” equipment as shown on calibration labeling. We were discouraged from red, as this is used to mark equipment NFFA (Not-For-Flight Asset, often damaged or past-service-life parts) and black + red border is the colorcoding to label rejected instruments. Anything that appears silver/metallic is also a no-go as exposed metal casing on equipment not nailed down is a FOD / shorting hazard. So there might be a strong case for genericity, particularly if they’re not the only ones who consider “safety yellow” to be a standard equipment coloration rather than indication of being a Fluke product. Likewise, the existence of effectively forbidden colorations in some markets should (won’t, but should) be taken into account by the USPTO when deciding to award basic colors from a limited pool for exclusive use by a single company.

  • If I ever need cash quick, I’ll just put a patent on yellow bananas

  • This is so sad. 2,000 multimeters to waste! Here in the Philippines, a student would not be able to buy his own DMM due to high costs. Even our own organization cannot readily acquire new DMMs and we badly need new ones.

    If you would like to send them somewhere, we’d be happy to receive tens even hundreds of DMMs so we can give them away to schools and students through the Software Freedom Day Philippines. It’s a big gathering attended by many schools. Teachers and students will love them!

  • Could you possibly consider setting up a donation to help with the monetary burden of shipping these to a place in need? I know that I wouldn’t mind donating $5 to save these meters and help a community (or whole country for that matter. 2000 units can do a lot)!

    Keep us posted please

  • Actually I’ve always thought it was a bit fishy that your DMM mimicked the fluke color scheme. But destroying them? You would think they could just return them or let someone paint them.

  • OK, I just officially boycotted FLUKE. This is ridiculous. What’s next, Mead owns yellow pencils? Stanley owns yellow screwdrivers? Maybe I’ll patent black and sue EVERYONE! But in all seriousness, maybe FLUKE will make an exception if they get a bunch of bad press over this.

    • Warner Bros. Sued the Marx Bros. over “A Night in Casablanca”

      Groucho counter-sued Warner over the use of the word “Brothers”. (Marx Vaudville act pre-dated Warner).

      Warner dropped the action. In this case, Groucho is Fluke.

  • Hopefully one of the bigger companies will challenge this trademark based on its generic and prior existence…

  • Fluke, Tektronix, and Keithley are all owned by Danaher.

    • Agilent (formerly HP) is still separate (although Agilent is going to be split – electronics test is going to be called KeySight). I can vouch that Agilent makes great stuff! The fact that I am currently working for Agilent does not change my opinion at all ;-)

    • I guess Beckman Instruments was acquired by Dahaner as well.

      • Yes - I used to work for a Danaher company and this does not surprise me. FYI - Danaher also owns Craftsman (hand tools), which is marketed/sold through Sears.

  • I have a Flüke 87 III next to me, the last decent meter they made. We have had so many problems with their newer stuff. Maybe it’s a good thing to not be associated with them. I can understand fighting knock-offs, but with the red Sparcfun…I mean Sparkfun logo, it should be obvious!

  • Red color is not a good choice. Amprobe is red.

    I am sending email with this link to Fluke and tell them I will not buy their products anymore. Most of my friends won’t buy either. There are plenty of choices on the market.

    • Not only does Amprobe use red, they are part of the same conglomerate as Fluke: Danaher. Make them red with a gray body, SparkFun, and you’re pretty much asking Danaher to get nasty.

      Red and white, now, that would be different. The argument for gray is that it doesn’t look bad when covered in industrial schmutz. SparkFun meters are intended for home DIYers, though, so white should be fine.

      Do that, SparkFun, and I’ll buy one just to thank you for doing more than the bare minimum.

  • WOW! I have heard of Patent Troll’s! Now Fluke might be the first Patent Zombie! Guess they’re yeller is getting the best of them and now us. Sh!t

  • You really should contact your congressman and/or senators.. Maybe they’ll have some pull with this..

    Keep us updated. I’ve already let Fluke know in no uncertain terms that they’ve lost me as a customer until you get an apology and any of your costs refunded..

  • I wonder if 1-star reviews for Fluke will start popping up on Amazon. Ironically, this is destroying their brand more than cheap yellow multimeters ever will.

  • Google image search for mining dump trucks. Several companies paint them yellow. Its a safe visibility issue. Caterpillar has a trademark yellow. I think at one point there was a color case in the industry, but it resulted in the original filer being told to patent the specific color and then prove the defendant used that very color, resulting in dismissal. Owning a non specific shade or sharp is the definition of insanity.

    Its like owning a patent on rectangular objects of non specific dimensions, which are to be connected to TV sets for entertainment purposes.

    Yellow is a visibility and safety color. No matter how good they are, red and green meeters just look weird to me, andmany others.

    Next thing you know, the hourglass hand shape will be patented by fluke too.

    And to those saying its not flukes fault.. bs. They filed the patent in the first place. Then the p.o. let it pass (due to incompetency or bribery).then fluke had to demand the dept of homeland oppression to enforce it.

  • Could you have a white permanent decal applied to the face? Then it would not seem to infringe the combination of the dark face and yellow sides. Plus printing and applying a decal should be relatively affordable.

  • Isn’t a “fluke” a parasitic worm?

  • A multimeter is a multimeter, no matter what color.

    fluke didn’t invent multimeters, so why are people accusing sparkfun’s version of being a knockoff? I’ve seen a billion multimeters that look exactly like this, and the sparkfun models don’t seem to be ripping off any unique features that fluke multimeters have. And, of all things for a company to own, a color!? Colors belong to nature.

    sparkfun better watch out for patents on black integrated circuits (or at least that’s how it feels)

    How about sparkfun paints all the illegal multimeters red!! Then everyone would be happy! Yeah!

  • Fluke isn’t really Fluke anymore. They’re a Danaher company (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Danaher_Corporation) which retained the Fluke brand. Danaher is BIG - US$32.9B assets in 2012 - and based on Washington DC

    That being said, as a Product Manager in the test & measurement industry (Anritsu) I look at that meter and say “Looks a lot like a Fluke meter”. The yellow and grey are distinctive, as is the inward curve of the case.

    A better move by Danaher for PR reasons would have been to allow the meters to be donated to schools. But I’m not a lawyer. I just play one on the Internet.

  • SparkFun sells the seeds of innovation. To that end, I wish everyone here the honor and knowledge of: 1) Developing something wonderful. 2) Seeing it knocked off cheaply, with little effort. 3) Trying to protect it. 4) Experience the crazy things you have to do to follow the laws to protect your invention. Without that insight, you’re just blaming a company that is preventing you from getting a cheap, yellow multimeter.

  • The answer is simple:

    http://www.simpsonelectric.com/

    As many Fluke products as I have owned, I’ve also owned quite a few classic Simpson meters that work just fine. Perhaps we should stop feeding the monster.

  • I’ve posted an open letter to Fluke here: https://www.facebook.com/owendelong

    I encourage others to use social media to try and get this issue in front of Fluke management on a timely basis.

    While I would agree that these meters do have a limited similarity to Fluke’s product appearance, the reality is that the look and feel is markedly different. Anyone familiar with Fluke’s products would never mistake the light-weight ABS case of the Sparkfun product for a Fluke product. This really does fit into the rounded-corners category of absurd legal actions.

    However, I’m not prepared to boycott Fluke outright until they’ve had a chance to respond to this specific issue. Fluke didn’t actually cause this problem directly or necessarily intentionally. It’s more nuanced than that. Fluke complained about some imitation meters. ITC (which I believe is part of DoC) investigated and issued a more general order as a result of that investigation. These meters came close enough to the criteria of the generic order issued that they were caught up in the process by CBP (part of DHS). It’s entirely possible that Fluke may or may not be bothered by these particular meters. It’s even more likely that Fluke was never aware of this situation or this possible outcome of their other actions. Regardless, my opinion of Fluke and my future purchases of their fine products will definitely be influenced by how they react to this matter.

    I urge restraint and civility. After all, we are much more likely to be taken seriously as a community by Fluke if we give the a civilized chance to respond and plead our case to them in a respectful manner.

  • For everyone saying “Well, Spark Fun’s multimeter kind of looks like a Fluke, so maybe this is justified”. Have a looksie:

    https://www.google.com/search?q=yellow+digital+multimeter&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=LhsqU4vgBceayQGU_YGIBQ&ved=0CAcQ_AUoAQ&biw=1920&bih=917

  • I just sent this along to Fluke…..

    Sent to: Wes Pringle, President; Paul Heydron, Director of Engineering and Leah Friberg, Public Affairs Manager. Addresses: wes.pringle@fluke.com; paul.heydron@fluke.com; leah.friberg@fluke.com Subject: Fluke’s role in building the inventors and engineers of tomorrow…. Time: 6:14 p.m. Eastern 3/19/2014

    Dear Mr. Pringle, Mr. Heydron and Ms. Friberg,

    I know all three of you and your entire company take pride in Fluke’s test equipment and products that enable engineers, inventors and technicians the world over to create, innovate and solve problems.

    While I know Fluke owns the trademark to yellow-bordered digital multimeters, please consider working with Sparkfun Electronics in Boulder, Colorado, to license their inexpensive, hobby-grade digital multimeters that are aimed at the K-12 educational market, young engineers and the DIY electronics hobbyist community.

    Please see Sparkfun’s blog posting here: https://www.sparkfun.com/news/1428 if you haven’t seen it already.

    You will be taking the high road and building your future customer base at the same time.

    Sincerely,

    Norm Sutaria

    Astoria, NY

    World Maker Faire Participant FIRST Robotics Volunteer Amateur Radio Operator KB2JRP

  • So many things going wrong: destruction of perfectly good hardware, no direct contact with Fluke, wasted money, overbroad trademarks… The only people that “win” in these situations are lawyers, as they laugh all the way to the bank. It’s amazing how as engineers we can see what’s going wrong here, but the lawyers are usually happy to keep battling for things that make no practical sense as they get rewarded for it. I bet if Fluke emailed you guys and said “hey, do you mind changing the color on your next batch” you would have probably complied (no need for them to roll the artillery if it can be solved with a friendly conversation)…

  • quick sparkfun copywrite the rest of the color combinations you can make with the CMYK colors since you dont need to be specific in the shade just copywrite black border red face, red border black face, blue border black etc

    and bring a quick and decisive end to any multimeters in america other than you and fluke

  • My Fluke is a dark gray case with a SEPARATE yellow thing that the meter fits into. The actual meter is all one color: gray. The meter in the pic appears to be a two-tone case. Splitting hairs perhaps, but it seems to me this is enough of a difference. At least to a lawyer.

  • It looks like a fluke, not a Simpson, not an extech, not a realistic-radioshack. It think it’s rather disingenuous to say that the yellow and gray colors are universal to meters. I have a Simpson, a Triplett and a Fluke. It’s the third fluke I have owned. The 23, the 77 and the 87 I have owned call had yellow bumper cases. They looked similar. The 117 I used to have a work looked just like your product.

    A lay-person would likely be confused by the deceptive likeness of this knockoff.

    Frankly I can’t believe this issue hadn’t been raised earlier. Be advised that Triplett meters are red.

  • Quote: This is 162 pages of companies (Velleman, Harbor Freight, Elenco, Electronic Express, and Jameco to name a few) that have been brought under scrutiny by the US International Trade Commission because these companies were selling…

    If there are that many companies selling yellow multimeters, I’d say Fluke would be ineligible to claim that as a unique part of their equipment.

    • Fluke apparently made the first yellow multimeter.

      • And Oldsmobile made the first blue car. That doesn’t mean they get to trademark blue cars.

        I saw this Fluke image on their Facebook page:

        https://scontent-a-lga.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-prn1/t1.0-9/p235x165/1486759_10151967614270592_1803818963_n.jpg

        and just happen to have a screen color sampler in my toolbar. At the brightest spot on the trim, this meter is (216,121,1) - decidedly orange. The darker spots are more orange. None of the samples that I took show a border color anything near yellow. Orange is OK for visibility purposes but safety yellow has specific tuning for the human visual system.

        And that’s why there are so many yellow-banded meters on the market - the human eye can see them easily. I’m just glad Daimler Benz didn’t trademark red brakelights.

        • Its not the meter, it is the yellow wrap-around meter bumper and stand. The combination of this and the meter is a distinctive look. So cool an idea that it is copied in every way possible and leaving Fluke few ways to protect the invention and trade dress. Thus trademarks about color and other things that seem too loose for hip young open-sourcers who live in their parents basements. Not that there is anything wrong with that!

  • lol. maybe sparkfun should manufacture in the USA next time. ya know, so we can keep jobs in the USA. Also trying to sell a cheap Chinese made multimeter that looks a lot like a Fluke multimeter is a little bit shady.

    • great idea, lets inflate the price lower the quality and expect people to pay it.

    • Shady? Nope. It says “Spakfun” right on the front. Does not say “Fluke” anywhere. It is gray with a yellow case – that is the only similarity. Yellow makes it easy to find when you put it down. Gray is a dark color where light-colored text will show up well, and there is not a huge contrast between the gray and the background of the LCD – all logical.

      Now, Agilent uses orange. Since we appear to be working in ROYGBIV colors, this apparently limits the total number of manufacturers that can make meters.AFAIK, all of the other colors except maybe purple are taken.

  • THE Question: Are Fluke products expensive because of quality and accuracy, or are they expensive primarily because of their ability to abuse IP laws to suppress credible competition?

    The answer: Trademark laws are intended to prevent confusion in the marketplace. If an inexpensive Chinese import which doesn’t say “Fluke” on it anywhere (nor anything spelled remotely similar) can be kept out of the US market based on an argument about its coloration, well then, it becomes painfully apparent that any distinct value in Fluke products must be at least in part, skin deep.

  • I really don’t think fluk had too much to do with this. It was mostly Lawyers and mis- interpretation (or perverted interpretation) of the copywriter.

  • Here is a comment from the other side of the spectrum. What is the insulation value of a “cheap” multimeter? If I am working above 120V and I grab a multimeter not rated for said voltage and it bursts into flames in my hand I will wish I had my fluke instead. I realize this is out of the scope for most folks but higher voltages do exist in the real world outside of dark basements and backyard sheds. I wonder how many tweakers, I mean hackers realize that these meters can work their way up the food chain to do useful duties such as industrial applications and actually be dangerous to a person who is using it for a productive purpose. Sorry to break out of the shell of blinky squeaky toys that annoy cats & dogs but there are real world circumstances where this can be an issue. If you want a toy meter, the shape should resemble a Hyundai or hello kitty. If you want a meter that looks professional spend the money for a quality meter. ps. I don’t work for fluke but have owned their products for over 20 years and use I them with pride

    • We definitely agree that there are applications where our multimeters are inappropriate and a higher end meter is warranted (whether from Fluke or someone else). If you are working in those situations you should know what your requirements are (otherwise you have no business working with those voltages). But there are lots of applications where these meters work great. Most of our stuff is 5V and a few hundred mA at most. For these products, these meters are great and appropriate. But that doesn’t make them toys any more than a laptop is a toy because large room sized servers exist. Get the meter that fits your application.

      • Wait just a second - your meter clearly says “CAT III Max 600V”.

        Meaning “used on permanently installed loads such as distribution panels, motors, and 3 phase appliance outlets.”

        Is it or isn’t it? Or is it just a “don’t ask don’t tell” situation with the manufacturer there?

        You need to answer this…

        • This is a rating supplied by the manufacture. From the research I’ve done the manufacture can issue these ratings without independent third party certification. While that certification is a nice reassurance it is not necessary. As far as we can tell these were designed and tested for the CAT III rating, but that doesn’t make them high end meters which you want when dealing with mains. CAT rating and quality are not the same, when dealing with mains you want both, when dealing with an Arduino, you don’t really need either. Again, its a matter of knowing what multimeter is appropriate for your use. Also, we are looking into this as well as other things in figuring out what meters to carry in the future. Info on CAT safety ratings from Fluke

        • If it isn’t a quality meter from a reputable manufacturer, I’d trust the cat rating as far as I could throw it. Ive had a $25 “CAT III” meter explode when I tried to measure a 2-phase 240v line. We’re talking about enough force to split the case open and soil a perfectly good pair of pants.

    • So what you are implying by the context of your comment is that a yellow color may be considered some kind of guarantee against electrocution, and therefore to protect the lives of professionals who work with high voltages, inexpensive imported multimeters must absolutely not be permitted to be colored yellow.

      • What I am implying is that when you perform a job with a level of integrity people respect that. In some cases people actually think the work you do is cool. In turn they ask questions. In one case a younger gentleman asked me why I did not ground myself when entering a 500v cabinet so I wouldn’t get shocked if I “messed up”. This is just one example of many where a young ambitious mind can be lead astray into a dangerous situation if not properly trained. Yes there are guidelines (NFPA 70e) and training for these applications, however I have watched several training videos over the years of unfortunate friends who have had “bad luck” with their meters..Im talking meat wagon and burn ward, not just soiled pants. So what is to prevent these ambitious minds from seeing someone use a fluke in a safe way, then going home and tackling that pesky water heater or clothes dryer with a meter that looks just like the one they saw someone else use? You can twist words around and try to be cleaver but when its a matter of a case where someone can get hurt -and people do - I would favor a quality product. But here lies the REAL problem. Fluke headquarters is is Washington state (Seahawks), spark fun in in Colorado (Broncos). Use a fluke and be a winner, or get blown up like a Manning. Sorry to end on a positive note…

      • Yes, yellow means it is safer. Yellow wont let you do stupid stuff. It is magic yellow. Of course us arm chair experts (in my case, electrical engineer) don’t have a clue about anything. Because if I think Fluke is being a bunch of jerks I am obviously wrong. Because yellow is magic and reserved for only Fluke meters.

      • “CAT III”, look it up. It is right there on the front of the meter. Being deliberately obtuse in this silly argument may not cost you much but when you do it with safety at stake it may cost your life.

  • According to that PDF, the trademark expired in Dec 2013 - probably at least worth checking to see if it has been removed. Can the yellow holster be removed - could they just destroy those?

    • Unfortunately, it was renewed http://tsdr.uspto.gov/documentviewer?caseId=sn75934005&docId=ACR20130224054551#docIndex=0&page=1

  • Just to add to my earlier comment: See http://nemo.cbp.gov/ot/bonded_warehouse.pdf page 57. 6.2(a) declares “Usually, dismantling or disassembly is considered manipulation [versus manufacturing]” which allow you to pass the 6.2(a)2 no-manufacturing rule. This could then trigger 6.2(a)3 to reclassify the dismantled meters as DMM bits (qualified for entry) and Multimeter shells (to be destroyed). At least, that’s what I would try to convince the port director.

    • Great thought, but we are likely required to use an import-supplied subcontractor to “destroy” the meters; I doubt skilled disassembly is included in the available options.

  • Time for SF to spearhead an Open Source Digital Multimeter! Scalable, modular and OPEN! Wait, 2 seconds on Google reminded me that you had a DIY Multimeter. Where did that go? Slap that into a Flame shaped case! Who wouldn’t pay a little more for that?

  • The real reason they’re being destroyed: they probably work better than a Fluke, these days.

  • Uh … The letter is dated March 10, not the 7th, and it refers to 250 digital multimeters, not 2000. Perhaps the business model of buying cheap stuff from the Alibaba web site and selling it on your own site is coming to an end?

    • Yep. We were first notified on the 7th by our import agent that the shipment was being held by the Department of Homeland Security. My guess is on the 7th they started looking a few days later (on the 11th) we received the letter dated the 10th. Good catch with the 250 pcs. The DMMs come in boxes of 8 :)

      • Department of Homeland Security? What, buying cheap tools on the internet is a threat to national security now?

  • I like Fluke products, well built and great for the labs I work at, and we buy a lot every year. So FLUKE if you can read this, if you don’t solve this problem, I would never buy a fluke product and I will make sure no one at my university buys a fluke product ever again, I will post on all blogs, I will make sure no one buys your stuff, there are better DMMs from Japan!

    And please grow up, you’re a big company and you act like a 2 year old child, why don’t you go and trademark white (cause of the notations of selector), red and black for the leads and all other colors in case you use it on your website! after you’re done registering the trademarks, go play with your barbies!

  • <sigh…> I can see most (younger) people’s opinions that they think multi-meters have always been yellow…. and this by no means makes me an expert, but I’ve been using Fluke multi-meters since the late 80s, and yes, the yellow ones give me the feeling of trying to look like a Fluke. Just like all the generic brands at the grocery store sitting right next to the ‘common’ brand. I in no way confuse them with the real thing… mostly because everyone does it and it’s pretty obvious the difference between a $15 meter and a $400 meter. But yes, it is a pretty crappy thing for Fluke to do. I can’t believe that the import agents are the ones responsible for identifying ‘look a likes’, I bet Fluke has someone full time googling “yellow meter” and gathering a list to turn over to the import agents to ban. Too bad that person couldn’t warn the other seller (such as SparkFun) first and give them a chance to change their colors… Yea, Fluke, you lost a lot of Karma points today…

    • I dunno.. I just associate yellow tools with safety. They stand out so you don’t accidentally step on ‘em or leave 'em laying around a job. I have a yellow Stanley FatMax measuring tape, yellow DeWalt drills, yellow torpedo level, a decades-old yellow DMM (non-Fluke), a yellow post hole-digger… the list goes on

    • I agree that if Fluke was the first to market with yellow+DMM association then yep, Fluke has a right to stake a flag. But it seems a bit murky.

      I think you’ve nailed something on the head. Ignorance of the law is not acceptable. But putting the burden of trademark search with limited USPTO search tools puts us (and you the consumer) in a rough spot. What should SparkFun have searched for in 2005 to prevent this? Not sure, but a warning system would have really helped us and Fluke.

      • Fluke indeed was the first to market with a yellow DMM. It was the 70 Series, introduced in the early 1980s.

      • What should SparkFun have searched for in 2005 to prevent this? Not sure

        Not sure? Really? In 2005 it did not occur to you to think, “hey, this thing looks like a Fluke. Lets see what trademarks Fluke has?”

        Come on, we believe you when you say you weren’t intentionally trying to confuse people but even your defenders in this thread say the thing looks like a Fluke.

        • What he is saying is it does not say Fluke on it. As far as looks, almost all multimeters are the same. I have a Radio shack multimeter sitting next to my generic no name harbor freight one. They look exactly alike. The dial is also the same sequence of dc, ac, cont, etc. Oh look …. spark fun is yhe same….oh and so is the fluke. It is a box with a dial and some leads. If thry had looked up the Trademark, guess what? Fluke does not say Every Shade of Yellow on the planet. Also trademarks are different than patents. Patent is on a product design. Trademark is for branding. It allows you to look at something and it is distinguishable from all others LIKE IT. Logos are the main items people distinguish in a product. But colors are part of a logo or brand, you can take the color out by itself, it is not trademarked you cannot trademark a color. You can trademark a specific shade of color as long as it is a distinguishable branding item, like a gift box at tiffanies or red boxes from sparkfun.

      • I know hindsight is always 20/20, but you could always go to a Law University to see if they can do anything pro bono with the students on research of USPTO stuff (if anything it’s beneficial for both, you get something to help the business and the students get real-life work experience). It’s a long shot, but worth it. I mean, the worst they can say is, “No.”

    • So I don’t have a problem with the “trade dress” (as this part of copyright law is called) claim in general, but naming the colors as “yellow” and “dark grey” is pretty sloppy. If you go to Flukes marketing department, I will bet you that they have specific Pantone™ color numbers for the yellow and grey that they use on their instruments.

      The legal test in trademark and trade dress cases is “Does it cause confusion?” and for bonus points: “Is it intended to cause confusion?”. Me, well, I’ve never had a hard time telling a Fluke instrument from an imported cheapie.

  • I didn’t review the rest of the comments so this may have been said but could a faceplate be created to nest atop of the unit? It would mask the yellow.

    • It would also drive the price up due to the cost of manufacturing the face plates and the amount of time the meters would have to sit in CBP’s warehouse (don’t forget that their supplier refuses to take them back and CBP won’t release them in the US as-is). For a single batch of meters, it probably isn’t worth it.

    • Neat idea! We can change most of the colors and shape of the meter so future meters will have different colors. A faceplate would need to probably be permanently glued to the unit to be permissible and our timeline doesn’t really give us the time.

  • Why don’t you store them in Canada, until you can find a home for them? Shouldn’t cost too much to ship/warehouse them for a week or two.

    • We checked Australia actually and found Fluke had the same trademarks there. Haven’t had a chance to check Canada. Have you had a look?

      • Oh PLEASE let this be the impetus for starting up Sparkfun Canada!

      • I just searched the Canadian trademark database for “fluke”

        None of the things I found were multimeter designs, and only one mentioned yellow. It’s titled “FLUKE IN A YELLOW BOX DESIGN”, which it looks like is just a trademark on their logo. I know that many local electronics stores here in Canada sell yellow non-Fluke multimeters. I have three of them myself. I’d hate to see all those go to waste, maybe you can ship them to Canada and resell them somehow?

      • I bought in Canada a few years ago a yellow and dark gray multimeter that looks a lot like a Fluke 87 (pre-V), FWIW.

      • Here is the multimeter I use here in Australia;

        http://www.jaycar.com.au/productView.asp?ID=QM1327

        Looks more like a Fluke than the SparkFun one.

        Here is what you get to choose from;

        http://www.jaycar.com.au/productResults.asp?MID=1&SSUBID=544&SUBCATID=1060&keyform=CAT2#1

  • Donate them to hackerspaces aroudn the world?

    • Yea. I’d love to donate them instead of destruction. We’ll try but the nature of the trade laws is these are seen as counterfeit so donating them inside the US is probably out of the question.

      • Any chance to send them to Costa Rica??, you can donate them to schools, we have lots in need, and a lot of interest in electronics.I can help with that.

      • If only we could bring them to recovering schools in Haiyan affected provinces! :)

    • My guess is that the ITC only agrees on sending back or destroying them. Shipping them out from the US (where they already are) will count as trying to export trademarked goods probably..

  • If you deport them, do they have to go back to china? Can you donate them to an african kids school or elsewhere?

  • I noticed something. If US Customs denied entry to 250 units, and Sparkfun is selling them at $15 each, that only comes up to $3,750, not $30,000. The only thing I can guess is that a “unit” is a case of 8 these things, since the division works out evenly.

  • Fluke so good in indonesian fluke like http://www.ralali.com/fluke-indonesia , not only test and measurement tools

  • Hey Guys – I know a good defense is always a good offense— but REALLY?? I’ve been looking for a new Fluke MM just this week to replace my 30 year old model and when I saw the picture of you MM above I absolutely know why customs put a hold on them. If y'all don’t think your MM looks like a Fluke knockoff you’ve got your collective heads up you a–es!!

    Sorry reality sucks but there you have it!

  • Not that you have your new NOT YELLOW multimeter, how about an overview of what you had to do to decide on the new colour?

  • Really Fluke? Thou hast lost an eighth.

    Besides, doesn’t Tonka already own the color yellow? Or how about DeWalt? And it looks nothing like the far more expensive Fluke meter.

  • the real problem is that there is no fact checking in the trade mark process. Fluke should not have been able to trademark a design that was popular before fluke even existed. If even one preexisting product of that design can be found the patent should be denied. More importantly the idea behind a trade mark is that the design is synonymous with the company. I had never even heard of fluke before reading this article.however I have always associated yellow with testing equipment and educational handhelds because that is the industry wide convention from RadioShack to Texas instruments.

  • So why don’t you just hire some guy to paint little dots over some of the yellow? Then you don’t have a yellow border. You have a yellow-and-[green/blue/orange/purple/black/silver…] border. Seriously. If you want to give them away, make it a condition of the gift that every meter has to have at least 1 dozen dots painted on the border.

    And no, Fluke is NOT cool. They could have contacted you directly. That’s how most companies do it. They send a “cease and desist” order that tells you not to do what you’re doing any more. They could have let you alter the appearance to comply with the copyright. In short, they could have worked things out without involving the government (which is more useless than Fluke.)

    Unless Fluke gives you a (minimal loss) out on this, I’m done with Fluke forever.

    And I’d challenge them on the definition of “yellow”. Give us the exact wavelength you’re talking about, Fluke. Is it 569nm? 571? 588nm? Because some of those colors might be called yellow, or orange, or gold, or goldenrod, or corn, or flax or lemon… And Fluke’s trademark doesn’t cover those. It only covers YELLOW. Not “YELLOW-ish”. See http://math.ubbcluj.ro/~sberinde/wingraph/colors.gif

  • Couldn’t you just slap a dab or stripe of paint on them and give them to a school board (since the packaging would be compromised)? Actually, I’m sure the students would be happy to paint them for you. I can’t believe anyone would allow somebody to presume to own a color, or in this case a whole range of millions of yellow and gray colors.

  • I wonder if Fluke was actually the first to make a multimeter with those colours.

  • You are not alone, Sparkfun. Fluke sued Extech in 1997 about the same thing. Now you know why Extech meters are not yellow (anymore). Fluke was so pleased with themselves that they put out a press release about it: http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/fluke-and-extech-resolve-lawsuit-75507097.html I would not expect them to behave any differently towards you or otherwise relent, unfortunately.

    What their hubris keeps them from realizing however is that the days of John Fluke’s God-motherhood-and-apple-pie, American-made multimeter are long gone. They themselves sell nice Chinese-made meters. It is a commoditized product in a market that is increasingly harder to dominate more due to the number of participants and the incredibly flat distribution (ebay, amazon, anyone?).

    So, Fluke, it’s your party and you can cry if you want to. Have your yellow-bordered cake and eat it. Your glory days are numbered.

  • Make a SparkFun Red DMM!

  • We need a Teddy Roosevelt again.

  • OMG “2,000 multimeters will be destroyed somewhere in Los Angeles”

    I can think of a lot of uses for 2000 DMM!

  • Okay, First let me say that I am of the open source frame of mind, and have mixed feelings on knockoffs. As long as their not claiming to be something there not then I mostly don’t have a problem with them….I DO have a problems with EXACT CLONES. Now I have owned one grey fluke (the outside ring instead of yellow was a darker grey then the multimeter I THINK) I believe it was a model in the 70 something line. I have also had a yellow Jacketed fluke 77 which I LOVED. (IT was stolen) So I did a search on the model 70 flukes do try to find what year my grey one was. Imagine my suprise at this: [img]http://i9.ebayimg.com/07/s/000/77/61/de35_2.JPG[/img] Its a picture of Flukes that are grey, yellow and black!

    I can see where it’s nice to pick up a specifically designed Multi-Meter with a yellow jacket….It’s Associated in my Brain on a subconscious level with quality BECAUSE of Fluke….And I mean If fluke wants to patent a an easily distinguishable style yellow jacket Exclusive to Fluke, I can see that…..and don’t have a problem with it. I don’t yet have enough info to make an informed ABSOLUTE conclusion…BUT if there producing Multimeters of 3 different colors and claiming that the yellow jack means its a Fluke period…well WTF? I currently have Multimeter that is higher end (But I wish it was a Fluke)

    And I was going to comment that it’s on whoever designed the Multimeter in question to have looked into this (As Im guessing the company that made mine did, and that’s why Its bright orange) After all in the US they say Ignorance of the law is not a defense. But If I can pick up a multimeter that’s a fluke, and its not yellow as described….Then his argument doesn’t hold water! And although I commend Wes (FLUKE) for trying to make it up to Sparkfun,(And I know they made this “Donation” to makes things right AND to help save face)

    This is the search I did on Google: Fluke multimeters over the last 15 years. And I clicked on the one fourth from the top,Fluke multimeters over the last 15 years Again, this is the Imgage I found: [img]http://i9.ebayimg.com/07/s/000/77/61/de35_2.JPG[/img]

    • I havn’t seen the MM’s in question….But could they just put an Orange Jacket on this shipment of meters? (Or Pink, Purple, Black, Iime Green?) And If you can’t take them to China because it will cost, burning them will cost you…..(And I m guessing burning MM’s aren’t great for the Environment) then send them to a school in a 3rd world/ Developing country. Im sure the good will and press will more then cover the shipping expenses!

  • With the March 20th announcement, I’m glad these aren’t going to waste now, but still wish it wasn’t happening. Donate them to First Robotics! Hopefully you can write it off on your taxes. Win-Win.

  • I can’t help but play the devil’s advocate here and mention that color is an important part of branding. Examples of other trademarked colors: UPS = Brown T-Mobile = Magenta Target = Red John Deere = Green & Yellow Caterpillar = Yellow University of Texas = Burnt Orange

    These of course are all situational. John Deere doesn’t own green and yellow, thus preventing someone using those for their product. They do, however, have the trademark on green and yellow tractors and with good cause; when you see a green and yellow tractor, you assume it is a John Deere. In this case Fluke doesn’t own yellow, they own the trademark on gray MMs with a yellow border, that’s all. You are free to make gray and yellow screwdrivers, but not MMs. You could even make yellow MMs with a gray border if you wanted.

    The use of color in design is an incredibly subtle but powerful tool that advertisers use to manipulate people without them even knowing. For example, blue and orange make you want to watch movies: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/OrangeBlueContrast Seriously, proper application of color theory is a form of mind control.

  • The devilish side of me says SparkFun should send all the donated Fluke DMMs to the people that are waiting for their multimeter, and once we get them we smash the things to pieces with a hammer and post the video on youtube. But that’s childish and the Open Source Community is better than that… I hope.

    As for the trademark issues, it’s all been said before!

    Think about this for a sec; it’s scientists and engineers that invent, not business CEOs. Scientist work together and share their ideas. Business CEOs cut each others throats over chump change. So, in the end, who do you think is really going to real the world?

  • Reading the US ITC’s exclusion order, it sounds like Fluke can authorize imports. I hate seeing useful things be destroyed, especially an an environment cost. It would be nice if Fluke permitted Sparkfun to import these meters on the condition that 1) they are donated, and possibly 2) that they are modified (e.g. by a quick paint job) to not infringe on Fluke’s trade dress.

  • Today (March 20, 2014), Fluke reached out to us. Here is their public statement. SparkFun has officially accepted their gracious offer and will be donating the Fluke multimeters to several educational institutions and schools.

    Good on you, Sparkfun. And good on you Fluke.

  • From the letter, it sounds like you can export them anywhere that Fluke does not have that particular trademark claim. Throw them up on eBay?

  • Certainly a gracious offer Nate.

  • I guess the messages to FLUKE worked! I just got a private message from them, directing me to read this:

    https://www.facebook.com/notes/fluke-corporation/sparkfun-we-hear-you/10151978262765592

    They heard us! Sort of… JR

  • I used to have a Fluke but ultimately gave it away and went back to using my Simpson 260.

  • Looks like Fluke wants to avert the PR nightmare

    https://www.facebook.com/fluke.corporation/posts/10151978374570592?stream_ref=10

  • So many comments! That really sucks!

    I take it they don’t sell import insurance for troubles at the border?

    So sad they have to be destroyed. It’s not like you were importing some invasive species, or something that is going to impact any life in the US (or even Fluke) in any matter at all! I wonder if there would have been an option to hear what Fluke had to say about it. This is Custom’s interpretation of their trademark. Fluke might not care a rats a**.

  • Any chance to send them to Costa Rica??, we can donate them to schools, we have lots, and a lot of interest in electronics.

    Any option is better than destroy them.

  • It is getting totally out of hand with Trademarks, Copyrights and Patents in the US. But Hey if they can Trademark “yellow” … I am sending off a filing to Trademark “rain” because why not.. I live in Seattle.. and it’s just as vague a term here as yellow is. They call ANY precipitation Rain LOL. Sad… truly sad.

  • If you paint the border red, I wonder who owns the copyright on that? Maybe you should submit a copyright for red-bordered multimeters before it’s too late…

  • What if your colorblind like myself can I still buy it .. hehe

  • I have (what I feel is) an excellent idea… Who here has the knowledge/etc to do something like a CNN iReport on this? (unfortunately, I don’t) Right now this is a situation that is only known in the hobbyist electronics field. Why not expose Fluke’s tactics to the entire world, much like what happened with the frivolous Apple patents? I bet THAT will definitely draw their attention when their CEO turns on the TV and sees his company being shown in a negative light, internationally!

  • Hey Sparkfun, this sucks but you should get over it and turn these lemons into lemonade by doing what you do best.

    1) I like YOUR colors better than Fluke’s. Make a new one that is clearly sparkfun branded top-to-bottom (maybe with a red border and white face? ) 2) Don’t just make the exact same meter, see if you can invent and add just one novel feature. 3) Come back with a campaign and ask the community to support you

    i already own a meter but in this case i would purchase another one and possibly give one as a gift.

  • Where in LA are these being destroyed? Perhaps I’ll wander down and see if I can “liberate” a couple. :)

  • Destroy the shipment at $150/hour? I doubt it. Some government flunky’s going to wind up with these in the trunk of his car after SF gets billed for (many, many I’m sure) hours of “destruction time”, and he’ll have a nice little flea-market income for a while.

    In all fairness, either intentionally or not the meters do look substantially like Flukes. It’s sad that there’s no apparent way around this (say by simply having a few hundred replacement cases made in a different color, then switching them and letting the Feddys destroy the evil yellow parts). It does raise the question of who, where and why someone decided to pull this now, though, after so many of the meters have already been imported and sold. But it’s done, so weigh the costs and take whichever path results in the smallest hit to the pocketbook.

    Seriously, this does speak to how screwy our patent/trademark laws are. As someone mentioned in an earlier post, Apple’s pulled this with the “look and feel” idea of phone shape and icon design. How many other ways are there to make a box and display icons on a screen? But that’s basically what they sued Samsung over. And in the early days of Windows™, a suit by Apple resulted in the “recycle bin” idea, because the trash can was Apple’s. (I wonder if they’d have been successful calling it a “wastebasket”.)

    (Completely random side thought: I saw an ad in a sales flyer in our local paper quite some time ago for a Billy Joel CD. There was a little “TM” symbol after the name “Billy Joel”. If that means he’s actually trademarked his name, does that mean he can successfully sue anyone who tries to use that name at all? Or just if they try to be a recording artist? That’s why actors have to change their names or use some other form of it, so there’s no chance of hiring the “wrong” or “knockoff” version of some A-list name.)

    I think I’m going to take out trademark coverage on an inverted V shape with a bar across it, then sue anyone who uses the letter “A”. Makes just as much sense.

  • I think changing your color to Red might again be a problem http://www.fluke.com/fluke/tten/Digital-Multimeters/Specialty-Multimeters/Fluke-28-II-Ex-Intrinsically-Safe-True-rms-Digital-Multimeter.htm?PID=74148

    • My Sears/Craftsman meter is also red. Better check for violation with them too :(

      A white meter with red logo and black text would look cool and be unique. I don’t believe I’ve seen one that looks like that. Good luck.

  • Is it not possible to have them shipped elsewhere than the sender? Canada is pretty close, I’m being south and central Americans wouldn’t mind inexpensive multimeters either.

  • Congrats Sparkfun! It sounds like you’ve arrived.

  • How can the community help? Sparkfun is a huge positive influence in our lives that does business with ethics first. The laws are set up to assume companies don’t care. But weirdly it seems both Fluke and Sparkfun do care. With that said, I read posts like this and feel helpless. Is there any call to action?

  • Just send them to Europe or Asia, there are no such trademarks there. I’ve seen many yellow multimeters in Europe which look almost identical to the Fluke ones.

  • ADAfruit sells the Extech EX330 meter that looks like a fluke meter for $60.

    “http://www.adafruit.com/products/308”

    Though the holster isn’t quite the shade of fluke yellow, more of a school bus yellow.

    I use a Fluke at work, but would never buy one for home or hobby use. Fluke’s are just too expensive for the average hobbyist.

    Who wants to volunteer their Fluke meter for a smash video on youtube? I wonder what a fluke meter would look like in a blender?

  • Wow… that’s pretty messed up. I own and use MANY fluke meters (I have two sitting next to me right now), and have always held them in very high regard (I’d never consider buying a $15 Sparkfun DMM, no offense)… but this is pretty ridiculous. I really hope Fluke makes it right, but I’m not counting on it. Good to see people reaching out to them and hitting up their social media… the trademark stuff is certainly aimed at the big businesses, but we have the power of our voice. Even if it doesn’t solve this immediate problem, maybe it’ll influence future decisions.

    And it looks like they’ve gone after a German company Yello Strom Gmbh about this similar issue (I have a strange feeling it has to do with the key word “Yello”): http://www.plainsite.org/dockets/index.html?id=2444199 . That link says that they’re being represented by Adobe Systems, Inc… so maybe something good will come of it. But most likely they’ll settle, and Fluke will still own the same flawed trademark, and Yello Strom will be happy to be done dealing with it. And then Fluke will move on to the next company, and the lawyers will get rich along the way.

  • Here in my country I have seen FUKE multimeters: http://saleitemimages.usabestsupply.com/usa-on-sale-340792-Freeshipping-FUKE-DT9205-Full-Range-Protection-Digital-Multimeter-Cheapest-Meter.jpg

  • Radio Shack sold yellow meters forever.

    • The problem is not yellow multimeters, it’s yellow with a contrasting dark grey front according to the trademark description.

  • Spark fun, trademark red retail packaging and circuit boards.

  • You’ve really got three problems, the way I see it.

    One, to the average Joe on the street, the meter really does look like a Fluke meter. The whole point of them not specifying a pantone color in the trademark is that would free people to just go one shade off and say “not the same color”. Now, of course this all would have been made much easier if customs had caught your FIRST shipment, which I assume was much smaller. Companies have to protect their brand though.

    Two, is your meter really rated to the level it claims? If I got one and tried to diagnose what was wrong with my drier, would it work or would it potentially catch my house on fire? If it can’t handle the 600V the labeling claims you have a huge problem. (For that matter, Fluke would have a problem when the TV news shows a melted yellow multimeter and says “here’s the source of the fire!”)

    The third one is the one that really bothers me though. You found out about this problem 12 DAYS AGO! That’s almost two weeks! Did anyone from Sparkfun get on the phone with someone at Fluke to talk about the issue? They give away tens of thousands of dollars of gear every year to schools… maybe you could have gotten a pallet of Fluke meters out of the deal to donate to maker labs everywhere. It could have been a friendly low-key discussion between sane, reasonable, people. The way Sparkfun is acting now, you’re trying to be bullies. Whether you like trademarks or not, the $15 meter violates them. Getting everyone on this blog, Facebook, twitter, and reddit to complain loudly doesn’t help fix the system. It makes you a bully and puts you in the same camp as the global warming deniers. Saying something over and over again doesn’t make it true.

    So yeah, trademarks suck, but shame on you SparkFun for how you’re dealing with it.

    • I disagree. Anyone who knows who “Fluke” is probably relates their name to a high price tag much more closely than to a color of the device, and just because they didn’t get around to posting it for you to read for 12 days doesn’t mean they weren’t doing anything internally, and it doesn’t lessen the fact that Fluke is the bully here. Sparkfun has always been very open in it’s communication on this site, even to the point of posting potentially embarrassing things, and I think it’s great insight into what a small company has to deal with. This is just one example.
      Reasonable people can disagree on whether “yellow with a dark face” is an appropriate patent, but if Fluke doesn’t want to be seen as the bully here, they should have contacted Sparkfun, and/or sued in civil court rather than using the government to enforce this in a way which leaves Sparkfun very little recourse.

    • The average Joe on the street had no idea what a multimeter is, who Fluke is, what the difference is, and why they should care. Those who buy multi meters know pretty well what they are buyin and why. Even the innocent newb will learn soon enough and choose either to spend extra on a second meter or not.

      So. No. Its very unlikely we will see a melted yellow nlob on the news and collectively, as a global society, all exclaim “Gasp! Fluke meters KILL people!”

      • A very foolish comment. Anyone who knows multimeters and sees melted gray and yellow will of course think Fluke. Anyone who doesn’t know what a multimeter is is not going to be buying one anyway so it doesn’t matter what they think.

  • Kind of silly that they won’t even give you the option to fix the problem really. You could totally order a bunch of red plastic cases and pay someone to swap them out for less than $30,000.

  • I love you Sparkfun, but I think you’re in the wrong here. Anyone in this industry, especially you, should have seen LOTS of fluke DMMs in the past. What you tried to import looks like a clear and explicit knock off. Being engineers, I can see how you may have not understood that this was an issue (I wouldn’t have really though of it either), so I do empathize. But part of the reason this trademark may already look somewhat generic is because it has been diluted by similar but not quite infringing designs already so everyone thinks “oh yeah DMMs are yellow”. I’m just seeing a lot of one sided comment and wanted to provide a voice to the other side.

    Also, fluke isn’t some evil global megacorp. They became number one because they were good, they’re a USA company (like sparkfun). Sadly though, they have started outsourcing a lot of their manufacturing to china recently, but their best stuff is still made in USA (last I checked).

  • Now I seem to have to find someone else with comparable products.

    Fluke, I love your stuff, but when it comes to choosing between a company that quacks like an ass and acts like an ass and one that doesn’t, you have just lost a customer.

  • Why were they not SparkFun red from the beginning?

  • First they come in with “Indication of Colors claimed: Color is not claimed as a feature of the mark.” then say gray and yellow without any clarification of which shade of said colors they wish to trademark. To me that make it invalid.

    But red would be good for a Sparkfun product. So do as the Chinese, see this as an opportunity. And make sure you trademark SparkFun Red.

  • every one of my non Fluke Multimeters has yellow So … Prior Art?

    https://www.google.com/search?q=yellow+multimeter+-fluke&lr=&hl=en&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=y0oqU4zSBeP10gGrhICIAw&ved=0CAoQ_AUoAg&biw=1152&bih=642

  • In this case, I think company that thinks that you infringed on their trademark should pay for it. Seriously, what’s $30K to them. Look at all the free advertisement you are giving them! The post should have been… “Our meters have been identified as looking close enough to another company’s meter that trademark laws come in play. The meters have been confiscated. We (think it’s obvious that we) weren’t trying to infringe on their trademark. We are trying to work something out and apologize for the delay in getting meters in stock.” Stop advertising for them. Even complaining about them gets their name noticed.

  • This makes me sooo mad. You guys should not have to go through this bull sh!t.They leave you literally no choice but too waste $30,000 and start destroying nature. This is like un-constitutional.

  • This is so stupid. Trademark a color. This is just soooo stupid. Can I say it again? Its Stupid!!!!!!! I like yellow so now i’ll be destroyed?!?! THIS IS SOOOOOOOOOOOOO STUPID!!!! I feel for you Sparkfun, you should not have to go through this. I just can’t get over how stupid this is.

  • Stupid question: why not just paint these?

  • I have meters colored yellow from the 1980’s and 1990’s. One has a removable yellow soft moulding to protect the meter. The meter itself is also yellow. The meter is a Dick Smith Electronics Q-1542. This meter was most likely purchased during the 1980’s. Another is a Dick Smith model purchased during the 1990’s. I cannot currently find it, though it is yellow. The decal is IIRC also yellow. Surely, prior art is at issue here. Yellow and yellow surrounds are clearly used by others well before this trademark was issued in 2000. Yellow is a “common usage” safety color used in may things, including test equipment, power boards, earth leakage adapters, etc.

    The Apple vs Samsung is completely different. Samsung clearly copied Apple, not only the case, but the location of buttons, the look and feel of the GUI interface, including copying the icon style, etc, etc. There was even an internal memo released that revealed Samsung was deliberately doing this.

    Let’s boycott Fluke!

    • Hmm. You don’t ever seem to have purchased anything at the Fluke level there with your two Dick Smith meters*, so how exactly is your boycott going to work?

      *neither of which is gray with yellow surround (like a Fluke) anyway…

  • Cant they just leave the multimeters out in the sun for a few days until they turn white?

  • Quick SparkFun - File on:

    Description of Mark: The mark consists of the colors dark gray and red as applied to the goods.

    Before someone else does….

  • Right now if you check out Fluke Corp.’s Facebook page it’s clear that they getting a good flogging. Well done fellow makers! You can rationalize all you want about patent laws but one thing is clear: Fluke is going to have to come up with some way of doing damage control. Hopefully this works out in Sparkfun’s favor. Don’t just post on Facebook but call their local representative in Washington and let them know how you feel. Make them feel the “love.”

    • No, no they’re not going to have to come up with damage control. In fact any professional who owns and depends on Fluke products is a) probably not aware of this “flogging” to begin with and b) is on Fluke’s side if they are.

      When you’re prepared to pay more than $15 for a piece of test and measurement equipment, that’s when your opinion begins to matter to Fluke. Not before.

      • I would agree, except that there are hundreds of thousands of hobbyists who use $15 meters at home, and have buying power at work to buy whatever brand they want… At home I have “Radio Shack” or “SparkFun” quality stuff typically, while spending hundreds of thousands at work for various pieces..

  • It’s kind of funny that the only Flukes I’ve ever used or even seen didn’t have any yellow on them.

  • Why cant you reroute them to be sold in some other country? You sure might be having retail partners in other countries ! OR, reroute to some other country (India) to have them modified and then back to US.

  • I wish sparkfun wasn’t american, all this patent crap is getting out of hand. There is another downside you may not have realized, people like me who count on the parts they get for design/development of products cant just go “oh well its going to take longer to get here now because the united states has shitty patent laws” will be much less likely to order from any american company. I’ll be importing my requirements directly from china from now on and bypassing any american involvement.

    • And chances are your countries laws are either too lax like China that robs patent holders blind, or they are as strict or stricter. Trademark and Patent laws are absolutely necessary to protect companies and inventors from a holes stealing their idea. The problem is some countries could care less about other countries patent and trademarks. The laws are outdated in a global market, they all need updating and new treaties need to be formulated and signed.

      • or perhaps my country wouldn’t accept broad sweeping patents covering the color yellow. perhaps i dont live in a country that believes litigation is an acceptable primary source of income. perhaps many patents in the USA don’t exist in my country and are not enforceable here.

        Patents may be necessary but the system used is broken and inadequate

        regardless the united states is a liability i’m not willing to deal with anymore

  • If these meters are destroyed then Fluke goes on my list of companies that I will never buy from. And it is fluke being bullies by applying for an overly broad trademark.

    And honestly this is a case of inconsistent application of the law as there are thousands of meters that are imported every year that look MUCH more like fluke meters than these.

    hell check eBay or indeed Amazon.

  • Well, you can have a “sparkfun warehouse” outside USA, so business like buying 2000 yellow DMM can be shipped from China to Mexico(for example) and then shipped individually to a happy USA customer.

  • Another reason for Open Source. Patents, trademarks, and copyrights provide protection by denying anyone else the right to infringe. They are both good and bad. They protect the sometimes large investment a company makes in R&D by allowing the company to realize a profit over time. That is the good part. The bad part is they stifle innovation and keep prices high. Whenever the market is distorted, there will be winners and losers, but in the long run we need this type of regulation. However, I think Fluke made a mistake in this trademark and it has cost Sparkfun and their customers a chunk of money. The solution is to overhaul the intellectual property laws, but that won’t happen overnight.

    Remember, “If it works, its a Fluke”

  • Eh, the industrial design on the thing looks like it’s designed to ape Fluke’s designs very strongly. I doubt there’s much an appeal to a judicial remedy can give you on this.

    Maybe ship it off to some other country, hopefully without the trademark on their books and steep import tariff? Maybe that’s a tall order.

  • Same shit (crabby) Apple pulled on Samsung, ‘oh we own the trademark for rectangles with rounded borders.’ I call BS in that one…

  • But my Fluke is grey! I’ve been had !

  • I believe such kind of trademark would not be allowed here in Brazil, so we might be a possibilitie for donation. We still have extremelly high custom taxes, but, if public universities do not have to pay custom taxes. I could try checking that if you guys say me that sending to Brazil is doable.

  • Can’t you make a deal to sell them to a distributor elsewhere? Ship them to another country? I know it’s not easy to pull this stuff out of a hat but there’s got to be other countries that want multimeters and don’t have Fluke trademark bullshit on the books?

  • It reminds me of this other fine example of (ahem) our tax dollars at work..

    DHS raids toy store over expired Rubik’s Cube patent

    • That’s incredible! Have these people no brains at all? A patent infingement is reported and they instead of doing their homework first to verify whenther patent is still in force or finding who the manufacturer is and harrassing them, they instead choose to scare a poor woman in her little toy store. I guess it was just a pleasant time of year to go for a road trip to St. Helens.

  • I wonder if Extech (part of FLIR) have had the same issues with their DMM’s. If you take a look at this product, being sold by Allied Electronics: http://www.alliedelec.com/search/productdetail.aspx?SKU=70117350 - it looks to be a DMM with a yellow surround? Or is the loophole that the product may have been manufactured in the US and not had to go through US Customs?

    …other products listed on Allied, such as the Agilent DMMs appear to be yellow: http://www.alliedelec.com/search/productdetail.aspx?SKU=70180556

    Though some are listed explicitly orange: http://www.alliedelec.com/search/productdetail.aspx?SKU=70180413

    So - are your products actually orange in color?

  • It would be cool, if the color of sparkfun meters has to be changed, if we could vote on possible colors. I think red is too close to the POS I used to have, so i’d vote for blue or green :p

    • red

      Can’t use red, my Brymen 257 and Craftsman DMM are Red. Also, GreenLee has the market on Green DMMs. I believe Purple is available.

  • While it’s certainly understandable that you would not want to make negative comments about a competitor and that you don’t have any intent of actually infringing on valid trademarks, it is worth nothing for public edification that the general exclusion order that’s now costing you guys tens of thousands of dollars is something that Fluke actively sought (as in, they sought not only to punish actual existing wrongdoers but further sought and obtained an order punishing future infringers or possible-infringers-in-the-discretion-of-customs-officials, innocent or not) and actively maintains (the exclusion order lasts only if they provide an annual affirmation to the government).

    This is an incredibly frustrating situation. I did some quick poking around and found a law review article out of Northwestern with some discussion about some of your options: http://scholarlycommons.law.northwestern.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1602&context=njilb – suggestions pertinent to your situation are in section VI (of course, for all I know, your lawyers are already well-versed in these issues, but hey, free law review article is free law review article). Best of luck to you.

  • It seems the Trademark was renewed a month ago at the USPTO, so i guess it’s how this shipment got caught ?

  • Could you just paint over the yellow?

    But, it’s not like you lost $30K, that was the retail price. I’ve got to imagine the wholesale is lower. Still, it is fun to imagine how much cheaper things would be without lawyers – they add an incredible amount of waste to our economy.

  • Such a load of cr@p

  • Well, I say keep the same supplier and ask them to make the multimeters in something not yellow. Its a case - who cares what it looks like?

    Heck, your company logo is red and white. Go with that.

    Maybe find a way to poke back at us customs a bit?

    • Now that you mention white and red, i wonder… Has anyone got a trademark on red and white stripes and white stars on blue background? I think I’ll trademark that and charge anyone using this scheme a steep licensing fee. :)

  • I do think the color scheme on the meter is similar to Fluke’s color scheme. That is where is ends though. Every Fluke I have ever used has yellow rubber on it. Not plastic.

    I do not see how these could be considered counterfeit. This action by the DHS is purposeful and calculated by Fluke. This is not the first time a company will abuse government agencies to damage competition. If Fluke really felt these were infringing they should have sent you a letter and discussed it. Instead they wanted to make an example of you and any other competition. They knew full well the economic damage this would do.

    I will definitely be looking to get industrial meters and equipment elsewhere. I know Sparkfun may have to play the political game to not show bias for or against Fluke, but I don’t have to. Yes, companies are required to defend their trademark, but this NOT the way to do this.

  • I’ll just buy a BK Precision or a Gossen Metrawatt next time I am in the market for a multimeter. The heck with Fluke.

  • Interesting and sad.

  • Looking at my 179 and the picture of your meter I would have to say the 179 is much darker IMO.

    Edit: I also have a Meterman which is ALL yellow with a yellow rubber protector. I wonder how they get away with it?

  • I guess that means you won’t be reordering your Smart SMD Tester or IR Termometer?

    I’m not l liking all the calls to war against Fluke I see in the comments. It’s the law that’s broken. Fluke filed a trademark and may or may not have been aware of the repercussions. For all they knew, they were protecting their name from yellow copycat “Floke” or “Flake” multimeters. A business protecting themselves is nothing new. Not everyone can be sparkfun (a shame really).

    Now if they were patent trolling, I would grab a pitchfork.

    P.S. I love the donation idea. I really hope you can do that.

  • Sparkfun… We got your back!

  • Seems like 150 an hour could pay some people with sharpies to mark the DMMs as GENERIC, or some other positive non-fluke indiction.

  • I better destroy mine before the FBI raids my house!

  • Be careful with the red…. They also have a red multimeter…. http://www.fluke.com/fluke/tten/Digital-Multimeters/Specialty-Multimeters/Fluke-28-II-Ex-Intrinsically-Safe-True-rms-Digital-Multimeter.htm?PID=74148

  • Are you even sure they’ll be destroyed? I used to live near the Canadian border, and shipments that got seized sometimes ended up being purchased and resold by third parties.

    • Depending on the product, this is a real possibility – that items sometimes may actually be liquidated via auction.

  • It seems like a wiser (and more earth-friendly) approach by Fluke would have been to say “when you replenish your stock, pick a new color”. It’s not like another two thousand $15 yellow multimeters in the world are going to bankrupt them.

    • Fluke themselves aren’t dictating the action - the Customs Office is. Fluke is the holder of the trademark that Customs is comparing our inbound DMMs to, they have no say on the specifics of enforcement for our particular shipment.

      • It seems unlikely to me that the Customs Office would know to look for this obscure trademark without a request from Fluke’s lawyers.

  • Ok my 85 is dark gray with the yellow holster. That matches the contrast they speak of. But I also have a 23, which is a yellow body in a yellow holster. That doesn’t even match the color contrast they’re going after! I don’t see a date of mfg on it so I don’t know if it was made before 2000, but I guess it’s not a Fluke since it doesn’t “look” like one.

  • This is absolutely ridiculous. In the future, I will think twice before buying Fluke.

  • They have some available at MicroCenter. I just ordered one for local pickup.

    I didn’t really need one as I have several different multimeters, but figured it would be a good show of support…

  • There has to be a breaking point in relation to what is patent-able and what is not. Without laying down clear lines or perhaps just overhauling the nature of IP/Patent all together, I don’t believe we’ll be able to innovate our way out of messes like the environmental crisis. Apple got away with a patent on the SHAPE of their phone, Monsanto on biological life, and now the color yellow for DMMs. Thanks for this article SparkFun, this is a great exposure regarding this problem. We must find points of leverage to turn the institution over, or at least start budging it in the right direction.

    • This is not a patent. It is a trademark. Kind of like a logo. So yellow on gray is their trademark. You had better file trademarks on all color combinations and then sue anybody who makes anything similar.

  • It’s on Reddit already. Let the bad press begin. FLUKE reversal decision is 3….2….1….

  • Just written to Fluke Europe

    As an owner of Fluke equipment I am dismayed to see the following internet story

    https://www.sparkfun.com/news/1428

    Serious engineers hold Fluke equipment in great respect and make a deliberate choice in test equipment. That choice consists of product research and in no way does similarly coloured goods by another manufacturer affect that choice. In other words, similar coloured equipment in no way dilutes Fluke’s brand or its respect and standing amongst the electronics community.

    What does affect Fluke’s brand is bully-boy tactics such as this, leading to the destruction of thousands of instruments which were destined for the hobby market. The quality and pricing of Fluke equipment means that this is a market in which they don’t appear to be competing and so again there is no obvious impact to Fluke brand or sales.

    As a Fluke user I implore you to work with your US colleagues to provide a remedy to this situation that saves the current stock of meters, protects the profit margin of the hobbyist community vendors such as Sparkfun and provides a workable timescale to allow them to re-tool to produce test equipment that does not fall foul of Fluke’s (IMHO totally ridiculous) colour branding.

  • Let’s flood their Twitter feed with cries for help. They need to get on this and fix it ASAP. @FlukeCorp

  • Make the covers a dark blue and I’ll buy 10 of them!

  • Why don’t you send one of your guys there to destroy them yourselves? Bring a vacuum former to make a reusable protective cover for the front panel and then trim it to shape. Now it is easy to hit just the edges with spray paint. Let them air out for a couple of weeks at a “first month free” storage location. Sell these multimeters at cost and be done with it. You won’t lose $20K.

    • I think the key here is that we don’t have access to them. They are not in our possession. We have two options at this point, ship them back, or pay to have them destroyed. :-/

      • It’s such a waste to destroy them. Can you ship them back and have the covers redone in a different color? Is that financially feasible?

        • Well, shipping isn’t cheap so shipping them back, paying to have the color changed, and shipping them back to us is VERY costly and is a lot more than the units are worth. I wish they could just be donated, but we couldn’t donate them to any country where the same trademark restrictions apply.

  • “Remember, if you (use to) get a good measurement, it must be a Fluke!”

  • Plan of Action…… Sparkfun needs to trademark their product ASAP for the yellow product they sell. This trademark needs to include the specific pantone color code designation. This will avoid a lawsuit in the future because if Flunky…. I mean Fluke wants to stop the shipment again, they will have to sue you and it will not be worth it to them to argue how they own the color yellow…. all shades of it. I think Dewalt would beg to differ on who owns the color yellow. Speaking of yellow multimeters, I just did a quick search … Lowes carries 4 non flunky multis all yellow, looks the same. Home Depot has 6, all non flunky.

    And yes, Fluke is now banned in my home. I just ordered an oscilliscope this morning off amazon, and read this, immediately cancelled the order. Sick of crap like this.

    • Sparkfun isn’t the type of company to get involved in such petty copyright/trademark/patent bullshit. If you haven’t noticed, most products here have their schematics and/or firmware available for free, even if you don’t buy the product. Trademarking a product is not in the ethos of Sparkfun.

      • FYI we do have one trademark right now. As you can see it’s on the name of our organization, something we’d rather didn’t get copied. Other than that you’re absolutely correct - trademarks and patents are discouraged here and fair open source licensing is encouraged.

  • I wish there was some sort of prior art challenge to trademarks… I feel there may of been yellow bordered meters before 2000…

  • Did anyone ask why they are basing the decision on color, when “Color is not claimed as a feature of the mark”? Seems pretty clear that the color is listed, but not intended to be significant. Fluke also has a red and gray one, btw.

    • Because of the earlier ruling also linked to (that big PDF). Page 23:

      (G) The term “protected trade dress” shall mean digital multimeter or products with multimeter functionality having a dark-colored body or face surrounded by a yellow border, frame, molding, overlay, perimeter, holder and/or holster […]. See Exhibit A (photographs of exemplary Fluke digital multimeters).

  • We use Fluke meters all the time and not all of them are yellow. It seems to me if it’s not exclusively used for every model of meter it should not be enforceable as a trademark. The Fluke 28 II Ex is actually red.

  • Pretty ridiculous - especially that you can only have them destroyed or sent back (too expensive), rather than having them be put in hold, new color edges shipped over, and swapped out before sale. Too bad regulations are wholly inflexible on this (whereas with recent smartphone cases, devices were permitted to be sold as long as the default software was adjusted before sale, iirc).

    That said, time to think up a nice SparkFun color scheme (black, red, light grey?) and consistently apply it to the major products - helps with differentiation anyway. Filing for SparkFun Red trademark optional.

    • Yea. It’s a shame all that stuff has to get crunched.

      SparkFun does have a trademark on our logo but we’re pretty anti-IP (big proponent of OSHWA). Filing for a trademark/color scheme might work but I don’t have the time, money, or stomach to chase counterfeit SparkFun items. I did a TEDx talk on this topic actually.

      • Like I said in another post, a white bodied meter with red logo and black text would be a stand out and go well with your color scheme :)

      • I really enjoyed the TEDx you gave, it was informative and inspiring!

    • Well we can do something about this being so inflexible… vote out the idiots in congress and demand a overhaul of archaeic and unfair laws that cater to a select few. All of this is basically all or our faults for allowing it to happen.

      • The problem with that is “the idiots in congress” will be replaced with more idiots who take money from large corporations who support this garbage.

        • Not if you vote in the right people, and have those people immediately impose term limits. You put term limits in place they have no incentive to help large corps. You would see immediate positive change, plus no more career politicians.

  • I’m hoping this is an early April Fool’s joke.

  • So it sounds like the U.S. is allowing trademark law to limit the number of companies supplying Digital multi meters to the number of primary + secondary colors that exist? How does that make any sense? And how does color exemplify any uniqueness in the product itself?

    We use Flukes where I work, but I never once thought the color is what makes it a Fluke.

    Great Jorb Fluke…

    • On another note, what color are you going to make your new DMMs?

      And once again, I feel a company should not be able to claim a color and force other companies to use other colors. It just seems wrong.

  • Welcome to real world ;)

  • This is pretty horrible. I hope it can be challenged. It is probably a misinterpretation of the law by Customs and other parts of the government.

  • This is great until Agilent trademarks orange and dark gray, Wavetek trademarks red and dark gray, BK Precision trademarks blue and white, Dranetz trademarks blue and dark gay, and TPI trademarks green and dark gray. As distinguishing discernible colors dwindle, some lucky new test equipment company will have to act quickly to attempt to register the chartreuse and mauve trademark.

  • I hate when the USPTO punches a ton of innocent people in the face with a fistful of stupid. But hey, at least they denied Intel a trademark on the NUMBER 586! After they’d already let them trademark 286, 386, and 486… And that doesn’t even hold a candle to Apple’s patents on using chamfers on the edges of rectangular things. Because apparently basic tenets of industrial design used for decades are patentable now. UGH.