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Fluke responds to our issue with US Customs seizing our shipment of multimeters over a trademark violation.
Yesterday, we wrote a fairly-lengthy post about an ongoing customs issue we were dealing with. Essentially, our $15 multimeter, which we source as a quality entry-level meter for DIY enthusiasts is in violation of a trademark held by Fluke Corporation.
The problem boils down to the fact that our $15 multimeter is yellow with a dark gray face, and Fluke’s trademark speaks to that effect. We’re still pretty upset that such a broad trademark can be enforced with little recourse for a company of SparkFun’s size.
But things are changing quickly. We are working with a law firm specializing in customs law to try to split up the shipment and redirect the multimeters to various groups that are friendly to SparkFun but in countries where we don’t violate Fluke’s marks.
Additionally, Wes Pringle, President of Fluke, graciously reached out to me and explained they would be posting a response on their Facebook page. While we still have issues with the way United States' IP laws are designed and enforced, but Fluke’s response was gracious. Here is what they had to say:
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
Thank you Fluke! We would like to take you up on this offer. SparkFun is committed to education and will donate your meters through our outreach events at various school districts and educational conferences. We will be sure your meters make it into the hands of good people.
While our discontent with the current environment of IP law remains, we are encouraged by Fluke’s handling of the situation and will continue to try to guide trademark law in a more business friendly way.
It’s amazing what the power of good customers can do. Thank you SparkFun fans for getting change to happen faster and with fewer court fees. We’ll keep sharing the lessons we learn. Get ready for a trademark free crowd-designed multimeter….