Counterfeit products can cause significant damage, not to mention the non-quantifiable reputation damage suffered by manufacturers as a result of products that are often of low quality. The best way to deal with this is to use property rights, such as the patent, and to use correct, reliable sales channels.
Making solutions exclusive and protecting them
“Patents involve significant time and effort and also require high costs,” explained Alexander Leisten, Team Leader of Intellectual Property at Wilo. “However, they offer us a way of making a solution exclusive and securing it at the international level.”
Patents are the most expensive property right and possess a total maximum term of 20 years plus a possible so-called priority year: “At Wilo we register around 20 patents per year and currently have more than 200 existing patent families,” stated Leisten. “Initial registration normally takes place in Germany - after that we have twelve months, our ‘priority year’, in order to make the property rights valid in other countries.” Rights are always granted specifically according to country, however since it is still the same solution, they are known as patent families. In addition to Germany, the pump manufacturer registers most of its patents in France, Italy and England. “This is due to the fact that these markets are the most important markets for us and for our competitors,” explained Leisten. “This is how the main markets are isolated from one another.”
Checked – granted - published
A patent is a certified right - this means that an idea is completely new and ‘inventive’ and this is also confirmed by the patent office. They therefore serve to safeguard the innovation and development services of a company. “Before we register an idea, it must meet various criteria. One aspect involves proving counterfeit in a third-party product. It must be a right that is simple to communicate,” declared the Team Leader. “If it is too difficult to prove the counterfeit, the patent right loses its ability to be applied in practice.”
Especially preceding trade fairs, tests to determine patent and design infringements in third-party products are performed frequently in order to actively and systematically fight product piracy.
Alexander Leisten made reference to the use of design rights in this context: “It is a good way of ensuring your own design language is not copied by others – like a kind of basic protection. Every design created in a new design language is deliberately secured. In the case of infringement, the specifications in the design right are checked again separately.”
Taking action against counterfeiters
The process of fighting against copiers has to be pursued in a systematic manner. The Dortmund-based pump manufacturer has already been active in this respect for some time now. For instance, customs authorities are specially trained to see when Wilo pumps are genuine – e.g. by the typical green tone, the corrugated multifaceted form or the famous red button. This procedure proved to be effective just a short while ago: “The customs office of an Eastern European country contacted us since a large volume of counterfeit products were found there,” reported Alexander regarding this recent case. “Luckily the employees here dealt with the issue in a proactive manner and inspected the products to see if they were genuine.”
In this case it was extremely easy to expose the counterfeit products: in one package the company name had been written incorrectly on the packaging. As a result of this, Wilo was informed about the finding since they were a potential rights holder and was requested to provide various pieces of evidence; the importer also had the chance to make a statement at this stage. “Then we have to decide what will happen with the counterfeit goods,” said Leisten. “The decision deadlines are often very short – normally we apply for them to be destroyed and we stuck to this here.” The costs for a procedure like this are normally incurred by the importer of the counterfeit goods, however often they will voluntarily offer to cover the costs early on.
Only original products have guarantee
“Normally experts can identify plagiarism with the naked eye. For example, due to a company logo that has an outdated or modified design. In this case people have printed it incorrectly without realising it. Moreover, the quality of the counterfeits is rarely as good as the original,” explained Christian Kruse, Wilo Sales Manager for Germany, Austria and Switzerland. “It must also be taken into account that the correct, reliable sales channels are used. It sometimes seems cheaper to buy pumps on the Internet or at the DIY store around the corner than via the three-stage sales channel. However the following is often more true: if you buy cheap pumps you often pay double later.” The best-possible product quality (guaranteed to be of manufacturer brand) can only be gained via the three-stage sales channel and, in the case of damage, an extended guarantee.
The lack of quality not only damages the reputation of the company and the plumber installing the pump: “Often the materials do not correspond to the real standards. For example they are slightly flammable, do not reach the specified performance and the high efficiency levels, or the product doesn't work at all,” stated Kruse. “The customer expects to have bought an original and forms negative conclusions due to the faults. We are fighting against this in order to protect customers from such incidents.”
Wilo is active and will remain active in pursuing counterfeiters successfully since they are reacting to the huge pressure being put on them and the number of plagiarism cases has gone down significantly.