Firearm Industry Firms Fight a Never-Ending Battle Against Counterfeiters

counterfeit gun parts chinese knock-offs

Courtesy Wish.com

By Ron Rosenberg

It is a sad state of the firearms accessories industry today that if you invest in a patent, product development, tooling, advertising, and everything else that goes into producing a product, certain factories in Asia will simply steal your idea and counterfeit your design.

Recover Tactical is a small company. Our annual sales are not huge, but we have the number 1 selling 1911 and Beretta 92 grips on Amazon with our grip and rail systems.  Inevitably, being number one for a few years on Amazon attracted the attention of Asian counterfeiters and two molds of our best-selling items were made.

I was at a party one evening about a year and a half ago and came across a picture of a 1911 with what looked like our patented grip and rail system mounted. I pinched to zoom and saw right away it was a knock off, a 1:1 copy minus our brand name. It was something I always feared and expected would happen, but that didn’t make the pain any less. I was finally a victim of the dreaded counterfeiters.

Joe Grine for TTAG

I did a Google search and found some Chinese and Hong Kong resellers selling the counterfeit Recovers and I sent them some threatening letters. Most of them complied and removed the offending articles. I figured that as long as the “disease” was contained in Asia, the damage to Recover’s bottom line would be minimal. Unfortunately, I was mistaken.

The problem is multifold. First and foremost, it begins with the counterfeiters, next it’s the resellers, and last but not least, it ends with the consumer (who are, most of the time, oblivious to the fact that they are buying counterfeit goods).

Courtesy Amazon

Recover has patents on our products in the USA. The purpose of patents is to allow those that take financial risks and then have the opportunity to recoup their investments on that risk, thereby encouraging those that have ideas to go public with them.

Patents allow people protection when investing and cultivates and encourages innovation. We have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in R&D, molds, products, and advertising for numerous products. Sometimes a product works and is a good seller like our Grip and Rail Systems, and sometimes it doesn’t work out like our Rubber Grips.

You don’t know which one will hit and which one will miss, but you figure that at least you have the hits protected for a number of years to make up for the misses. That allows more leeway in design and manufacturer.

With that said, a good friend of mine who is the owner of a large accessories manufacturer recently had his entire product line copied by multiple counterfeiters in China. They copied the product, logos, packaging, and managed to register his trademark as their own in the USA and China.

This company whose IP was stolen issued a press release on numerous websites and the comments that I read were very disturbing; “The company had the chance to make their money, but 18 years for a patent is too long.” Comments like these weren’t the minority, but the majority and are misinformed.

Joe Grine for TTAG

Let’s look at the 18 years of a patent and play it out. In years 1 through 5 you don’t make any money as a new brand because you’re getting the word out and re-investing all of your income. Assuming your initial investment is recouped because your product is a success (which 9 out of 10 are not) you will finally make some money in years 6 through 10.

But if you are smart, you’ll then invest in new molds and new concepts and double down on your investment. If you’re lucky, then by year 8 you’re able to sit back and relax and hopefully make some money.

But that’s when the counterfeiters come along. Protecting your patent and enforcing what is rightfully yours takes a lot of money, and guess what?  All the money you netted in years 8-10 is going to go to lawyers paying to protect the IP on your original concept.

So after 10 years you have 10 products, numerous molds, and not much in the bank because you’re constantly reinvesting all your income and protecting the intellectual property which you rightfully own.

Now I ask, is 18 years too long a life for a patent? I honestly don’t think so, especially with the amount of time and money it takes to launch a product, and then fend off the counterfeiters. Consumers need to be aware, buying counterfeits stifles innovation, especially in a relatively low tech marketplace such as firearm accessories where counterfeiting is rampant.

There are numerous websites that enable these counterfeiters to thrive. The biggest threat to the industry are websites like Aliexpress, eBay, Amazon, and the newest addition, Wish.

Amazon is a huge problem because if someone has a counterfeit product and a reseller account, they can ship it to Amazon for them to fulfill their orders. In the past, at times Amazon would mix (known as co-mingling) the counterfeits with the real products in the same bin and ship the counterfeit products as the genuine article to end users.

Amazon has been taken to task on this counterfeit issue and has implemented some new processes to prevent this scourge from spreading. I believe that in 5 years’ time Amazon will be at the forefront of preventing counterfeits.

Aliexpress, eBay and Wish (and to a lesser extent Amazon) are changing the rules by which counterfeiters operate because they are enabling the consumers to be able to buy direct from the counterfeiter, one unit at a time.

Back in the olden days (5 to 10 years ago), the factories would sell to an importer and it was easier to enforce the patent by going after the importer. Today the counterfeiters are selling their fake items one unit at a time and the flood is virtually impossible to stop.

Do a search on a website like Wish.com (a great article about the site appeared here at TTAG a few weeks back) for firearms products and you will find that the majority of their listings are fake knock-offs from factories in China.

Gear from brands like BLACKHAWK!, Leupold, EoTech and Fobus is being offered at rock-bottom prices. It’s so bad at Wish.com and other sites that Leupold has a warning on their website specifically calling them out.

What is so disheartening about a company such as Wish.com is that they’re located in the US. This isn’t a Chinese company operating without recourse. The company is owned and operated out of San Francisco whose main purpose is to provide a myriad of counterfeit products across multiple categories to gullible consumers in the US.

How can a brand protect itself? Register your trademark and or patents in the USA and, of course, China.

My personal opinion is that the trademark may be more effective and less costly in China. Once you have registered your trademark (which takes a year) the Chinese authorities will seize counterfeit goods on your behalf (assuming you can locate the factory).

Proactively search websites like Wish.com and Aliexpress.com and register your brand and patents with them. Larger brands can use services that scour the web and submit take-down notices on your behalf. This service can be costly, but I know of a brand that has seen a lot of success using such services. That may not be the way to proceed for smaller brands.

If you take the time to follow up, these websites will remove counterfeit items once you prove that there’s a violation and you have registered your IP.

Be a nuisance to re-sellers selling fraudulent copies of your products the second you see them.

If they see you don’t fight back, the problem will spread. Call the people selling your products, email them, and threaten them with litigation. It works.

 

Ron Rosenberg is co-founder of Recover Tactical

 

comments

  1. avatar Texheim says:

    Cost of doing business.

    1. avatar TexTed says:

      It is, yes, but the cost is so out of proportion now that you can expect a lot of manufacturers are going to “go Galt”. The result will be less innovation, fewer products, and less progress.

      They’re thieving bastards. And those who buy on Wish? They’re supporting the thieving bastards. In many ways, they’re exactly the same as the mom who complains when her thieving son gets shot, saying he was a “good boy” who “didn’t do nuthin'”.

      Can you imagine having your house ransacked, all your stuff stolen, and then someone tells you “hey, that’s the cost of doing business”?

      1. Somehow, I missed seeing anything about WISH.

        Unfortunately, I have bought some things from the site, and regret it. I bought from WISH because I couldn’t find the product anywhere else. The sizes are smaller than represented. The quality is far less than if the product was manufactured in the USA by a reputable firm.

        After I received some of the articles, I tried to unsubscribe from their site. I keep getting messages from them in my inbox, so it will probably be one of those unscrupulous sites that once they get your info, they pester you to death.

        DO NOT BUY ANYTHING FROM WISH !!! I wish I had seen the warning that was previously mentioned.

      2. avatar George says:

        Good One Tex !! I got a 1921 Silver dollar off of e-bay….. A magnet sticks to it like glue….Cost of business I guess… Cost of business? BS !! I say Find Them-Hang …Them make them examples!

        1. avatar Arc says:

          Fleabay for coins? Use something like proxibid or an auction site specializing in high dollar items.

          China counterfeits coins out of silver and watered down silver too. They even fake foreign coins.

    2. avatar George from Alaska says:

      You do drugs, don’t you? You sound like a heroin driven thief.

      1. avatar GunBoy says:

        No, he’s sane. You’re the idiot.

    3. avatar Renov8 says:

      What a douchebag response.

  2. avatar 16V says:

    Patent protection has been rendered moot. The Chicomms have no rule of law that will ever be followed when it comes to protecting foreign owned businesses.

    Bottom line, you have far less than a snowball’s chance of stopping any infringement. If you should spend the time and piles of money required to get one to cease and desist, there is no punishment. More importantly, the baton will simply be transferred to a different player, starting the game all over again.

    Don’t feel too bad, this has been going on for a decade en masse. You’re just one of the later arrivals.

    1. avatar Arc says:

      The only real protection you can get is by demanding websites hosted in patent system respecting countries to remove offending products. Usually they are slow to move because they make $$$ on the counterfeits too.

  3. avatar Shire-man says:

    Aint globalism great? It’s a non-stop race to the bottom as we “compete” with the 3rd world and criminals.
    Throw in a few million over-the-wall laborers to hold wages steady in a 3% unemployment market and we’re on track to be living in mud huts in no time.

    1. avatar Marcus says:

      Yea the ChiComs are far from 3rd world, despite their claims, and will always be 3rd rate at best.

      1. avatar Arc says:

        They let their kids shit in trash cans and throw unwanted kids in dumpsters. A specific region still eats dog there along with everything else under the sun. There is nothing the chinese won’t eat.

        Some regions may have technology, but their culture, lack of respect of civilized values, and treatment of life is very much third world.

  4. avatar Marcus says:

    And why Trump is right to stick it to the Chinese and is still being too soft!

    1. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

      The longer this trade war goes on the more I wonder why we are trading with China in the first place. There’s plenty of 3rd world countries that would be happy to provide our cheap labor for us. Some of them might not even steal from us that much.

      1. avatar George from Alaska says:

        I agree.

      2. avatar Dude says:

        Yep. They need us more than we need them. We’re the largest consumer market in the world. It’s past time we remind them of that.

      3. avatar Joe in NC says:

        The fact that Bill Clinton gave China favored nation trade status could be part of the problem.

      4. avatar TommyJay says:

        Unfortunately, it’s not just trade or cheap labor. Corps. like PepsiCo, McDonalds, Starbucks and hundreds of others are making 10’s of billions inside the People’s Republic. They’ve got a big infrastructure there. Also, while the labor there used to be cheap, it really isn’t now.

        But you are correct that we have a serious problem, it’s just that we’re past the point of simple or painless solutions.

    2. avatar HellBelly says:

      If the west knew what was good for them, the collective western nations would stop all trade and buisness with China and the Middle East completely. Treat them the same as they do North Korea. The west would take a hit but there’s plenty of other foreign markets to do similar buisness in. But that obviously won’t happen. Instead China will conquer much of Asia and the eastern pacific, and Europe will become Eurabia.

      1. avatar Ross says:

        Why blame Chinese? The US corporations build or hire factories there, and take most of the profit. The Chinese workers only earn the minimum wage. You need to stop the corporations.

        1. avatar HellBelly says:

          The corporations wouldn’t be able to do any buisness there if we sanctioned them the way we do North Korea, we recently just did it to Russia and Iran as well.

  5. avatar Blu says:

    a way to stop them is to ban the sites from doing business if they deal in counterfeit products. Apply a fine before they get to have access again to fix the issue. Ebay will be hard, as well as aliexpress. others like wish can just be blocked and pay the fine.

    1. avatar Dude says:

      Tech companies like Ebay and Amazon are getting rich knowingly selling this junk. As if they haven’t ruined enough small businesses.

      1. avatar Dev says:

        Actually ebay has a whole group devoted to stopping counterfeit items being sold there. They already have authentication for items like jewelry, high end hand bags, etc.The company does take action against counterfeiters, report scams and suspected fake items any time you see them.

        1. avatar Dude says:

          Good. Ebay used to have some pretty shady sellers. I haven’t used that site in years.

  6. avatar Carlwinslo says:

    People want these things?

    1. avatar George from Alaska says:

      It’s not just the items described, and yes a lot of people want the items described, Mr. gun snob.
      It’s also Troy sight knock offs, Gibson SG guitars, EoTech and other holo/dot sights, handgun magazines with no info on them that barely fit and seldom function… the list is huge.

  7. avatar Cloudbuster says:

    …found some Chinese and Hong Kong resellers…

    How did I know that would be the source even before reading the article?

  8. avatar Jay in Florida says:

    I know it will never happen for alot of reasons. But we should just stop doing business at all levels with the Chinese. Just toss them away. We need to bite the bullet and become self reliant again.

    1. avatar Mick says:

      Ah yes, being afraid of people because of their race. You’re the kind of person who liberals love to hold up as the “typical” gun owner to make us all look bad.

      1. avatar Ardent says:

        Accusing someone of being a racist for wanting to hold people accountable for their actions reeks of leftist leanings and frankly can’t other than stifle real conversations about real problems. The question is, what’s your problem?

      2. avatar John in AK says:

        That’s quite a reach, there, SneauFlayke.

        If the ‘Chinese’ of this story were instead Scots, People Who Are SO White They’re Nearly PALE BLUE, and were vigorously undermining the US economy by undercutting product and commodity prices via government subsidy, rapaciously stealing trade secrets through direct espionage, and at the same time challenging the US militarily, we would be issuing dire warnings against Pale Blue Scottish people and railing against the ‘Blue Peril.’

        It’s not our fault that the Chinese are ‘Chinese’; You can rest assured that we’d be unkind about them if they had any skin-color on the known spectrum whatsoever. Even Ultraviolet. No, especially Ultraviolet.

  9. avatar Chuck says:

    I’m sorry you had to experience that piracy. It’s why I do very little purchasing over the internet. If the price is too good to be true, it usually isn’t true.

  10. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

    Never heard of wish till that article here a bit ago.
    Now I’m informed. It’s one of the many reasons I like to buy direct from companies.

  11. avatar Tom T says:

    Um yeah…. pretty much everything on Amazon can be assumed to be counterfeit. Many manufacturers will not honor their own warranty if you bought the item on Amazon. Bezos knows and does nothing yo stop it.

    1. avatar John in AK says:

      It’s not only that an item on Amazon may be counterfeit; It may also be priced higher than one can buy it from the legitimate manufacturer.

      Example: Amazon advertises holsters made by a certain reputable company whose name is reminiscent of certain creatures found in Area 51 and the southern border, but who do NOT come from Guatemala. Said company has a nifty shoulder holster, and prices it at $133.80 plus $9.72 shipping to Russian America.
      Amazon, desirous of providing everything to everyone, offers the identical holster for a paltry $149.95, and will also ship it to Russian America–but for $42.71.

      Will the bargains never cease?!

      I am torn between my desire to fully support Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, and his wife, and his mistress, and maybe the pool boy, and all of the little Amazonians out there in the dark, and my wish not to be gently grifted out of a few bucks.

      What is a fellow to DO?!

  12. avatar Kyle says:

    The chinese are the real threat to America. Its never been the russians. It wasn’t the soviets even when they were the soviets.

    1. avatar Someone says:

      Believe me, when Russians were soviets they were a big threat to the West and no mistake. Today – not so much.
      Tomorrow – who knows.

  13. avatar Sian says:

    If all else fails there’s always masks and torches.

  14. avatar Tejas223 says:

    One inventor I know said make it better and more competitively priced, and don’t even worry about the patents. I’m inclined to agree. But it doesn’t help when the Chi-Coms are selling it at 10% of what it costs us to make it.
    This is why the Tariffs are important.
    Buy American. Every time you buy something Chinese or Russian… you’re supplying the enemy.
    Thanks to Bill Clinton awarding China most favored nation trading status – they communist Chinese have been robbing us blind, stealing our IP, and building up a military purposed to topple the USA – All funded by US Dollars…
    So, American Consumer, American Companies…. wake up!

    1. avatar Mick says:

      “This is why the Tariffs are important”

      Please pick up an economics book. That stupidity was what turned an economic downturn into a 10+ year global depression a century ago.

      1. avatar GS650G says:

        You should read other books. It’s not fair trade , equal trade or trade at all when you have a lopsided relationship like we have with China.

      2. avatar 16V says:

        Please pick up an economics book *not* aimed at brainwashing highschoolers.

        Any competent analysis shows the tariffs were, at worst, window dressing. Happening when the story is already written.

    2. avatar Warlocc says:

      Except when the Chinese raise prices to counter the tarrifs, the American companies also raise the prices too. Lose/lose for consumers.

  15. avatar Timothy Toroian says:

    The Asians counterfeiters should be hunted down and either eliminated or kidnapped and transported somewhere they can be prosecuted and imprisoned.

  16. avatar rt66paul says:

    The Chinese government is communist – they do not recognize patents from other countries and by design steal by counterfeiting. Textbooks are copied badly and sold all over Asia to students. Since they are a communist country, they support anything that is made in their country, including bath salts and fentanyl that are hurting so many people in our country.
    Blame slick Willie for Chinese imports if you want, but remember it was Nixon that opened up China, it was an act of revenge.

  17. avatar anonymousfor this was the pen says:

    about 10 years ago, i remember reading an article about all the ‘imported junk’ coming into our shores—–everything, including such common items as aspirin—-the article informed me that that reason for this was because the penalty for drug smuggling was not worth the risk, and there was good money from the ripped-off items, some that were so good, along with the fake logo, even the retailer, meaning major dept. stores, did not know the difference, nor did Customs, if the meager 5% of the imported junk was ever inspected—

  18. avatar TommyJay says:

    My pet peeve with Amazon is the multiple SKU’s under one product page. Reading the user reviews is useless because you never know which product is being reviewed.

    I had no idea that they substituted entirely different manufacturers within the same product page. That stinks. You listening Amazon?

    Another solution is to avoid Amazon when you can.

  19. avatar DarryH says:

    At a local gun show last fall, a dealer had a table full of Zeiss scopes. All the markings on the scope, box, and papers indicated they were Zeiss products. They were ALL copies. He did NOT try too hard to tell people this. If ASKED, he would have you look though them and handle them, but then would tell you they were copies. He even offered a warranty. Prices were mostly $350 and less. Had I been running the gun show, I would have kicked him out and never allowed him to return!!

  20. avatar ozzallos says:

    Just gonna say, all this counterfeiting exists because the industry prices plastic at criminally exorbitant prices. No, your plastic gun sight is not worth $100 per set. Why does an f’ing plastic mag cost double the price of any aluminum? Of course there’s rampant counterfeiting– You’re raping your customers wallets.

    1. avatar GS650G says:

      Sure the plastic material is cheap. R and D, engineering costs, mold costs, taxes, employees, marketing, factories, etc cost money.

      They don’t pick these things off trees.

      1. avatar John in AK says:

        Ah, but once the R&D, the engineering cost, the mold cost is all paid off, amortized, written off as tax loss, the item being molded no longer costs what it once did to produce; Therefore, the price of the product should come down, not go up, n’est-ce pas?

        A Glock representative, eons of our years ago, once confided to me that a complete Glock 17 frame actually cost Glock a little over $6.00 to make, taking into account all of the factors you mention.

        I’m sure that he no longer works for the company, after that ‘terrible accident.’ No, we don’t talk about it.

        1. avatar GS650G says:

          A successful product has a great return on investment. But to get there usually results in a lot of failure.
          If every batter hit a home run at each bat baseball games would score in the hundreds .
          For every gold mine product a company has plenty of things no one wanted that make great ornaments on the desk

  21. avatar L in denver says:

    I bought a knockoff C-more railway off Ebay and a real C-more railway off Amazon. Interestingly, the knockoff was nicely packaged, well made as far as I can tell, and came with a bunch of accessories and the necessary tools. The real one came in a cardboard box, no tools or accessories and some of the plastic is gray while the rest is black, and had a hand etched serial # on the bottom. BUT, the only thing that matters is that the real one lasts for a long time. The real one was 8x the cost of the knockoff. I’ll feel a little weird about it if they both last a long time.
    I have to temper my incredible cheapness with the knowledge that I’d be heartbroken having my own invention and investment ripped off by the Chinese. And, I have a shooting friend with a machine shop making really nice competition pistol accessories. I’d feel awful for him if his products were copied, and I would never, ever buy a copy of his stuff. I should apply the same standard everywhere, I know, I know.

  22. avatar efrain says:

    Mission First Tactical Minimalist Stock is heavily cloned on ebay, they even Use MFT in their descriptions. I report counterfeits but they seem to skirt around and stay selling. With everyone using CNC machines now there are clones of many parts that are from U.S based sellers. But most of all these come from China straight to California sellers to make the product seem more legit.

    P.S The cheapest MFT stock I’ve seen was $25 on tacpack and came in retail packaging.

  23. avatar Alan says:

    Regarding counterfeits, manufactured goods are one aspect of the problem. You might, in addition, consider the following, the problems of and with counterfeit currency. Combatting this is a major effort of The Secret Service, correct me if I’m in error, and other nations try to combat “backyard printers” too.

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