Trademark Insanity: Sparkfun Has To Destroy $30,000 Worth Of Multimeters Because They're Yellow [Updated]
from the this-is-stupid dept
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.The trademark makes clear that it is not claiming a trademark on the color yellow, but rather dark gray and yellow applied to something that looks like this:
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.And this is based on claims that other companies were violating that Fluke trademark we discussed above. As the folks at Sparkfun point out, this is all kinds of ridiculous and immensely damaging to them:
To be fair, the first point is slightly misleading. This isn't a color trademark like Tiffany Blue or the variety of other trademarks that have issued in the past (though many of those are ridiculous in their own right), but a specific trademark about how the color is used on a specific product. It's still ridiculous and makes no sense, but it's not directly comparable to color trademarks (which, again, are also ridiculous).
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.
Sparkfun is using the publicity around the blog post in the hopes that Fluke might grant them a brief license to save these multimeters, but admits that's unlikely. The company is also changing the color of its multimeters, but likely going to need to eat the cost of the ones about to be destroyed. Because trademark law is, yet again, pretty ridiculous.
Update: And Fluke is apparently going to give Sparkfun a bunch of its multimeters to do what they want with them.