We often hear from people that without "legal protections" what could they possibly do to stop others from copying them? Of course, "copying" can be loosely defined, and there are times when it's just multiple people coming up with the same basic idea at the same time, and in those cases it seems only fair to just let people compete. But what about a situation of incredibly obvious, blatant copying? Do you need laws? Or can social norms cover the situation? It seems that one small company facing that situation has decided to take the high road and not resort to legal tactics, but instead use social shaming in just such a situation where the copying isn't only obvious, but egregious.
For reasons that I don't fully understand, one of the most popular categories of products that have been successful on Kickstarter is high quality metallic pens. There are tons. But one of the first really, really successful ones was Pen Type-A, a minimal stainless steel case
for the popular Hi-Tec-C pens, created by CW&T
. Among the distinct features of the pen was the rectangular stainless steel case with a ruler on the side that it came in. The Kickstarter project raised $281,990 -- a bit more than the $2,500 they shot for.
What happened next is covered in a detailed and well-documented-with-images explanation from Notcot
. Needing a good manufacturing partner to handle the much larger than expected orders, CW&T partnered with a guy named Allen Arseneau, a Stanford MBA, who was representing JOIGA, a company that claimed to provide manufacturing capabilities in China. Allen and his partner, Diana Hudak, started helping CW&T, and CW&T even mentioned Allen and Diana
in some of their updates to Kickstarter backers -- and showed the two of them in some of the photos they posted. Many of those updates highlighted that CW&T were working hard to fulfill all their orders, but that they weren't coming quite fast enough.
And then... earlier this week, popular site Fab.com announced a sale on something called the Torr Classic... a pen that looks remarkably
like the Pen Type-A. Remarkably.
Lots of people started wondering if it was the same pen, and even asked CW&T, who were taken by surprise by the whole thing. When they looked at Torr Pens' website... they noticed that it wasn't just the pens that looked familiar. The "CEO & COO" of the company... were the very same Allen and Diana who had recently been working right besides CW&T folks to get the pens ready. Back to Notcot for the illustrated version:
Yup, the same folks who had supposedly been in charge of helping them get their own pens, and who had been working with them to ship the pens:
Over at the Notcot link
there are a lot more photos of Allen helping out with the pens. And it's clearly the same guy whose face is plastered all over the Torr pens site, including in a horrifically done James Bond parody video "commercial" for the pens.
Now, for CW&T, this is clearly a pretty horrible situation. The "partner" that they were working with to help them manufacture the pens that everyone had bought had apparently started his own company to make nearly identical pens... and did this while still waiting
for the full order of original pens to come in. CW&T responded by just telling the world
what had happened:
In response, many Pen Type-A supporters quickly came out in support of CW&T and against Torr Pens. Fab.com pulled down their sale, and other sites started to pick up on the story. I don't know if CW&T have any legal recourse, or if they should even bother, but they realized that just by talking about the situation with the large group of fans they had connected with, they could have an effective response.
Oh, and they've also found a new manufacturing partner, here in the US:
Stories like this are certainly not a fun situation for CW&T, but it seems like their time going forward will probably be well spent continuing to make awesome products and connecting with fans who want them. Who knows what happens to Torr Pens and its "execs" but the story behind them is now out and I can't imagine they'll be able to create the same sort of love and appreciation for their products from fans as CW&T has done.