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Clone Spotting: How Counterfeits Hurt the Open Source Movement

TouchBoard_8658_clone

When we found out that our Touch Board had been cloned we all immediately said “what!” quickly followed by “whoa…” summed up with “let me see!” After a few years of selling our Electric Paint and with our Touch Board just over a year old, we weren’t surprised, but we were certainly excited, frustrated, and curious. Crowded around the screen we all wondered what the clone would look like in person, where it came from, and whether it was any good. I hope you’re curious too.

I’m here to take you through the specifics of what separates a counterfeit piece of hardware from our Touch Board. If you’re interested in what cloning means to us as a company, then you should check out my piece on LinkedIn where I make the case that hardware really isn’t the hard part and that the clone is copying the wrong thing. If you want to jump to the ending, check out our handy “How to spot a clone” PDF guide (shown below). If you want to hear the whole story, it continues below the guide!

TouchBoard_CloneSpottingGuide
Click to enlarge as PDF.

A few months ago a super-user friend of ours, “Grumpy Mike,” spotted what he thought might be a clone on the Arduino.cc forum. He was right. He had been helping a user with their project, but the board wasn’t responding as it should. After a quick diagnosis and some photos from the user we realised that this was a cloned board. We were both flattered and frustrated. Flattered because someone thought that we were worth copying and frustrated because they had created a counterfeit product. The “Touch Board” that we found looked like our product, used our trademarked logo, and most importantly claimed to have been manufactured by us — presenting a serious problem. This manufacturer hadn’t just used our work without giving credit, they were trying to convince our community that this was our product.

The Touch Board is an Open Hardware project. Open Hardware presents all of us with an amazing opportunity to freely iterate and prototype, but it requires us to give credit where it is due. You should improve on our design and adapt it to your needs. We provide the files that you need to get PCBs made and all of our code is on our GitHub. We’ve done a lot of hard work and you should benefit from it. We built the Touch Board on top of the hard work by Jim Lindblom, Bill Greiman, Bill Porter, Micheal Flagar, Arduino, Atmel, Freescale, and the support of our Kickstarter backers. Without them, the Touch Board wouldn’t exist.

But as should be obvious, Open Hardware doesn’t alleviate the legal frameworks around Intellectual Property or official registrations. In this respect, the manufacturer of the clone is operating illegally on two points: the use of our USB Vendor Identification (USB VID) and the use of our protected trademarks. The USB VID lets your computer know what is plugged into it, ensuring product reliability, safety, and traceability. USB VIDs are an investment into creating a complete product that operates to a global standard. The clone is lying to you and to your computer. 

The use of our USB VID is frustrating, but the use of our name and logo is infuriating. We’ve worked hard to build a community of users through consistent communication, continual product improvements, and honesty. When we got the clone in our hands we saw that the manufacturer had printed a modified version of our logo on the board. The use of our name is in direct violation of our trademarks. This is a serious problem for someone who buys one of these counterfeit boards. We want to help Makers and customers, but we can’t provide support for a product that we didn’t make.

So besides the USB VID and the trademark infringement, it’s basically just a cheap Touch Board right? Nope! Did you really think it would be? When we got a clone into our hands we honestly thought it looked pretty good at first. The solder mask was pretty crisp, the white was white, the black was black and there were no telltale signs of a re-work or manufacturing error. We could tell that the gold plating was dangerously thin, but the board was clearly made in a professional facility to a reasonable standard, minus some very important details. Missing out on these details meant that our clone didn’t work. No bootloader, a mis-configured MIDI link and suspect components meant that this board was never going to work (take a look at the guide for the nitty gritty).

Could a cloned board be cheaper and maintain the same functionality? Maybe, but it is unlikely. The Touch Board works because we designed it well and we don’t cut corners. With the power of an Arduino Leonardo, robust capacitive touch and proximity, an MP3 player, MIDI functionality, a microSD card holder, and a LiPo charger, the Touch Board is fully featured. That functionality doesn’t come cheap. Parts cost money, especially when the manufactures are being paid fair prices for their work. We want you to make great things and inspire each other. We don’t want you to cripple your projects with hardware you can’t rely on, made by people that don’t want to help. 

So what do we do? In short, we’ve just done it. The nature of contemporary manufacturing and sales is that it is hard (and prohibitively expensive) to control counterfeiting. We’ve sent letters from our attorneys and made formal take down requests, but our most powerful tool is to explain why counterfeiting is corrosive to companies, customers, and products. Now that we’ve done that, it is time to move on. Instead of worrying about someone copying our past, we think we should worry about creating our future.

24 thoughts on “Clone Spotting: How Counterfeits Hurt the Open Source Movement

  1. And how exactly does this hurt the open source movement? I mean I can’t even download schematics for whatever this is, it is most certainly not opensource.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts! We’re certainly open source! Check out the link titled “the files” right under the second image. Hopefully you’ll find what you are looking for, including the schematic – Matt

    2. I think the sentiment is that open source is about sharing, not stealing. Parading someone else’s design as your own goes against the spirit of open source, because it hurts the honest folks who genuinely contribute to the community.

    3. If a counterfit doesn’t work or is crappy, and people getting into it don’t know that it’s a crappy copy, they assume that OSHW is all crappy and can’t be trusted. A lot of very polished and excellently executed hardware gets dismissed because of the crappy image that bad counterfeits give.

      As other people say, creative derivatives, within the allowed license is allowed and encouraged, but passing off a crappy execution as the real thing hurts everyone.

  2. I wanted this to be a good article, because I’ve often wondered how counterfeit hardware, as opposed to spirited adaptations of open source designs, actually affects the companies that manufacture the originals. Unfortunately this author was unable to separate an opportunity to present a unique authoritative viewpoint from an opportunity to pitch their own product, and how clearly superior it is to a… knock off? Or maybe this is a paid article, which make the moral allegations even worse.

    Even if objectively some counterfeit products might be identical to the original, I’m not sure it’s rationally possible to consider a counterfeiter to be as honest, trustworthy, or detail oriented as the creators of the original.

    So why bother attacking the moral character of a counterfeiter? Counterfeiters, by definition, make cheap copies of existing products, so it’s no surprise they wouldn’t feel too terribly awful about “stealing” your $5,000 number (USB VID), cutting corners, and getting “dangerously” thin with some gold vias.

    But the article broke the thin veil right about the part mentioning, “with the power of a Leonardo, an MP3 player, voice activated robust touch LiPo amazing for a low low price order now!”

    No thanks.

    1. “Open Hardware presents all of us with an amazing opportunity to freely iterate and prototype, but it requires us to give credit where it is due.”

      Due credit is a common clause in many, but not all, open source licenses. But again, adhering to any open source license generally presupposes personal value in things like respect, honor and community.

      I’m taking the time to respond because I think there’s actually substance underneath this superficial article. It takes courage to release long hours of hard work in a way that it instantly becomes trivial for counterfeiters (or any anyone who do not share the same values) to create copies that are potentially abhorrent to the original concept.

      I get a sense that it’s infuriating, and there’s an intense frustration over this thing that’s now out in the world that looks like the original, but lacks all the soul invested in the creation of the original.

      I don’t, however, believe any of that can be understood by comparing the original to a bad copy, and then following it up with the muscle-memory elevator pitch. I’d love to hear the real story next time.

      1. Great comments Ian. I really appreciate you taking the time to articulate your view so thoughtfully. I spent a lot of time thinking about how this story might be useful to others, either as insightful about us as a company, or the Touch Board as a product. In this piece I wanted to look at some of the technical details of the clone and the Touch Board, whereas in the LinkedIn piece (link at the top of the article) that I put up a few weeks ago I was talking more about company strategy. Just so we’re clear. This is my writing- not a paid article and that is not something I’d be OK with.

        This has just happened to us, so I’m not really sure how it effects us yet. If anything, the impact has been positive. We’ve learned a lot from what was copied, we have been reassured by friends and we have an interesting story that is generating discussion. The negative medium and long term effects are unclear. In the short term it has reinforced two obvious points. 1. We want to make sure that people don’t buy a product thinking its ours and then find themselves disappointed and frustrated. 2. We (obviously) can’t rest on what we’ve done and need to move onto the next thing. We have very little leverage beyond an active and thoughtful community passionately supporting what we do.

        I would be more than happy to give you more details, but to be honest, I’m not sure there is much more to give. But try me. I said that I was hoping to generate discussion, and you’ve done it. Awesome.

        Finally- as for the product pitch. When I was writing this I spent a lot of time thinking about the balance between explaining a product that I believe in vs. pitching it. If we met in person, you might accuse me of pitching it then too, not because I’m a rabid sales person, but because I love what I do and want to impart that enthusiasm. There were versions of this article that were far too focused on the product as an item for sale and others that didn’t recognise that we run a business. I was hoping to strike a balance. Fair enough if you think it’s too far on one side of the spectrum.

        Glad you see that there is substance here. Thanks again for your thoughts! Matt

  3. The first thought I had on this: there’s another dumbo who does not know how open source works, clones do not exist in open source, it is just another build/implementation. If you publish the sources, what else should you expect than that people use it and build one (or more) too? I can’t read minds so I don’t know the specific reasons why Bare Conductive made this open source, I just hope it was not as an advertising move only.
    If this were open source software you would be pretty stoked if someone else built from your sources. With open source hardware you should have the same sentiment, but I can imagine you also fear the competition: their sales might cut into your sales.
    How you handle an event like that goes back to your reasons why you made it open source in the first place: If you did it for the benefit of society at large, then you try to contact the manufacturer and help her to improve her product. you will also learn some tricks to improve your product, knowledge can flow both ways.
    If you did it as an insurance to prevent the designs getting locked up after a bankruptcy: this is just the premium you pay. You were expecting it for some time, a few sales lost is not the en of the world. A few free boards to the first affected users that pop up, will improve your reputation much more than this bad product will hurt it. If you want to seem friendly, you’d better do friendly things?
    If you went open source for the good (advertising) feel it imparts on your customers, then you will try to devalue their product and tarnish their reputation to safeguard your own income. It seems pretty clear that this is the intention of this post, but I’d love to be proven wrong on this.

  4. Matt, Someone copied the idea you published for all to see. That is the most sincere form of flattery. But why are you troubled? Surely not because someone wasted their money on an inferior good. I believe you’re upset because the copier got money from a customer that might have otherwise gone into your pocket. But should people not be free to copy and learn and voluntarily trade with others? Or do you favour controlling other people’s property by threatening them as patent and copyright allows? Surely not. Ideas are not property that should be justly controlled only by the owner. Unlike property, ideas can be used by unlimited people at the same time — including the original inventor.

    1. Hi Arthur,

      Thanks for your comment. I wish I was more flattered, but I am troubled. The reason that I’m troubled is simple. By passing of their product as ours they damage our reputation that we have worked so hard to create. Copying the design of the board is great! Copying our name is not. That is stealing work from us.

      Ideas can and should be used freely. The schematic files that I’ve linked to above can and should be used freely. We celebrate people who produce derivations of our work with due credit. If the counterfeit board would have been named something else, this article would never have been written.

      Matt

      1. Your reaction is understandable but if you look at it closely, is self-contradictory if you claim to be in favour of personal freedom.
        Concerning reputation. If you think about it, reputation is not something you own. Reputation is what other people think of you. If you believe that people own their own bodies and are free to use them any way they want (provided they don’t interfere with others’ bodies or physical property), then you must agree that people are free to use their brains and mouths to think and say what they want about you.
        Concerning “stealing” of ideas, logos or even names. How can it be stealing when you can still use what someone has stolen from you? It is not stealing. It is pretending to be something you’re not. And most often this hurts the pretender more than anyone else. Do you believe the freedom to pretend should be taken away from people by force? Surely not. It may surprise you, but I think struggling Barnes and Noble should be perfectly free to start a bookstore chain called Amazon and use the Amazon logo. Anyone who physically stops them would be initiating violence against an innocent (and laughable) party who has not touched Jeff Bezos or his property. This is wrong. It is not ok, however, for Barnes & Noble to hire some hacker to re-direct amazon.com to their internet domain. Amazon.com is property. It cannot be used by unlimited people at the same time.
        Concerning the legal requirement to give due credit when completely or partly inspired by someone else’s idea. I reject this. It appears to me to be a preliminary step to threatening violence against the person or property of someone who fails to give such credit. As much as I oppose Microsoft patent protections, I equally oppose that they be legally required to credit Apple for the idea of GUI or that Apple should be required to credit their inspiration, Xerox.
        People are inspired by thousands of things as the basis of their creativity. They receive natural and beautiful urges to simulate, emulate and imitate other humans. And maybe show off their own twist. Let them be free and let others be free to be inspired by them.
        If it were me, I would channel my troubled feelings towards making even better products with secret sauce that makes them harder to copy (yes, I believe the whole open source movement is a misguided movement). And maybe your experience will inspire a healthily greedy entrepreneur to come up with an AuthenticSource Check.com service. Down with intellectual property. Up with freedom. Cheers.

        1. I am not quite sure how people are missing a key point. If I copy their design and pass it off as my own product, I make some $$. Questionable, but probably legal. If my product fails, I will fail, and some people are out some $ and have a bad product.
          If I copy their design and pass it off as THEIRS, I have defrauded the public and have taken $$ out of the pocket of the original manuf. If it fails, I have commited deception, profited from their reputation, and have harmed their reputation.
          If I convince the bank teller that I am you and they let me take 10k from your account, I have robbed you. If I take your name and representation (“I live at… My SSN# is… “) and use that to take out a loan, I haven’t stolen from “YOU”.
          I don’t just harm the bank, I harm the investors (oh yeah, big deal), and I ruin your credit. It’s not a big deal to me, as I had no credit before and don’t care about your credit. The bank won’t lend to you without extraordinary effort on your behalf to clear your name. What? I haven’t “stolen” your name! You can still use it! It’s not WORTH as much to you, though. You might have been better off if I just picked your pocket. If I sell you a copy of a Ford (a “Frod”) and it dies, that’s what you get for buying a copy. If I sell you a “FORD” and pass it off as the real thing, does it harm you? Ford?
          Imitation MAY BE a form of flattery, but misrepresentation is a harm.

          1. “misrepresentation is a harm”

            In colonial Massachusetts the court levied a fine against anyone wearing a silk scarf unless they had a minimum net worth. The court wanted to punish anyone for the “harm” of misrepresentation. http://www.constitution.org/primarysources/sumptuary.html

            You likely agree that sumptuary laws like this deserved the dustbin of history. But how do you explain why trademark laws are different? Trademark laws fine or jail people for the “harm” of misrepresentation.

            I admit, because we’re so used to things as they are, it is hard to imagine living with the freedom of no trademark laws. Some people might indeed be confused. But it was probably also hard for many colonial Bostonians to imagine giving people the freedom to dress however they chose and thus confuse others.

            You mentioned SSNs. We don’t have to go so far back in history to imagine a country without SSNs. During the greatest period of America’s growth, there was no such thing as social security numbers. Nor income tax. Nor consumer loans from banks. Are we really better off today with this government identification mark and so much consumer debt owed to the banks? I say no.

            To repeat, identity is like reputation. It is not a kind of private property that you own. It is something that exists in the brains of other people about you. Their brains belong to them and so do their hands. If one of them copies your logo and puts it on a similar-looking product, they’re not touching you or your property. Therefore, you don’t have the right to fine or jail them. Along with patent and copyright laws, their close relatives, trademark laws are wrong in my opinion.

          2. There are, and have been, a lot of dumb and/or bad laws. But we’re talking different things. You wearing a silk scarf is one thing. Chic. You selling counterfeit scarves is another. Do I care that it’s not really a Coco Chanel or Ricardo Vicci? Um, no. Not really. I don’t BUY scarves, or hand bags, or fancy basketball shoes – knock-off, forgeries, or genuine. So it doesn’t harm me if you buy something that turns out to be fake. What, do you care if your neighbor is mugged, raped, or beaten? Nah. As long as they don’t come after me. You getting the crap end doesn’t harm me. Well, yes. It does. Because if they get away with it, it legitimized robbing ME on something that has value to ME.

            ARE there any property “rights”? Should there be? Is there intellectual property?

            Is “intellectual property” maybe a bit over-blown? I don’t know. Have you ever had intellectual property stolen? Trademark laws were invented to protect intellectual property – a lofty goal. How they’re used now is a different matter. Are patent laws there for a good reason? Yes. Are they misused sometimes? Yes.

            If you ask someone to pass you a Kleenex so you can wipe off the surface of the Xerox because someone copied their butt without putting down any Saranwrap, most people will know what you mean – those were famous brands / products that became household words because of their popularity. Is it a crime to use those popular proper names for any tissue, copier, or plastic wrap? No. Not to refer to something – but you are breaking the law if you take that 69 cent box of one-ply and print Kleenex on the box and sell them at 3.69… no matter HOW much is actually costs Kleenex to produce them (10 cents?). If you sell a cheap printer/fax/copier to a business, but TELL them that it’s a Xerox, you are breaking the law. “Who does it hurt?”

            It doesn’t matter to you if you buy something that purports to be genuine Nathan’s Beef Franks, until you find out that you’re eating pig rectum and chicken lips (well, it might not matter to some people at all) – but the wrapper SAID Nathan’s. You don’t get that as misrepresentation? And when you get ptomaine poisoning and try to bring a law suit against the real Nathan’s, what good do you think that will do?

            The pricey prescription of goat glands that you paid real money for is actually a little muddy water and the salesman’s nephew’s semen? It doesn’t really matter, because after all, it’s just a name/trademark/representation of youth and vigor – no harm, no foul, no crime.

            Some people really DON’T get it, but I will keep trying to explain.

            You don’t have to preach to me about SSNs. I usually preach to others. But the truth is, like it or not, we’re identified, stamped, and labelled with them. If you are part of the American economy, then your money gets put into the machine. Wouldn’t you like to know that it’s ONLY getting misspent and wasted by the GOVERNMENT, instead of having some low-life draw against that worthless account that the government makes you contribute to. Income tax? An evil. Necessary? It doesn’t matter, we have no say in the matter. Are they WRONG? Yes. Are they still in place? Yes. Do we have to LIVE with them? We don’t have a choice. Try not paying them and argue with the IRS. I would support you in your futile effort, but I don’t want to be on that end of the stinky stick. And I won’t be visiting you in jail.

            But you’re getting misdirected, and misdirecting others with your path of discourse.

            I’m not here to argue that they’re not right. I am saying that taking someone else’s SSN and lying to a bank is wrong. And that it harms multiple innocent or at least benign parties. I’m not here to say that consumer debt is a good thing. I am here to say that ripping someone off is a bad thing.

            Identity IS reputation. If you call someone a name – big whoop. Sticks and stones. If you use their ID for your profit – to withdraw fictional 1’s and 0’s backed by the finest electrons affordable by man, you do harm them. If you siphon off money from their retirement fund by misrepresentation, you’re stealing. You might still be a rung or two above Bernie Madhoff, but you are still ripping people off. If you pass counterfeit money for real goods, you’re stealing. If you take real money for counterfeit goods, you’re stealing.

            I don’t know how many other ways I have to say it, but I’ll keep trying.

            Your opinion is nice. Shiny. Pretty. Wrong. If what I’ve said doesn’t make sense to you, then maybe I need to quit trying to convince you and instead sell you the solid aluminum gold coins I have. They’re just like REAL gold, but purtier, and much lighter. Ignore the fact that they say Chuckee Cheese on them. Oh, and send me your credit card number, because I have some Christmas shopping left to do.

    2. I believe this to be a free speech versus free beer issue. The speech here is in the form of the binaries/schematics provided; the “beer” is Bare’s logo/namesake. In the open-source model, all Bare owns is its name. I don’t understand how you have contorted Bare’s name to be “other people’s property.” The ideas aren’t the property here, Bare’s name is what is at issue.

      1. “Bare owns its name”
        If I take their name, do they still have their name? Yes. Alternatively, if I take their neon sign, do they still have their sign? No. There’s something different about a name (or a logo, a picture, an idea or a song) and a neon sign. One is
        property (ie. a thing that can be owned) and one is not. Property is something that cannot be used by unlimited people at the same time. Property can be owned. A name is not property and cannot be owned. Identity (like your passport) is like reputation: something that other people think about you in their brains. One cannot justly control other people’s brains without their permission. Patent, trademark (name control) copyright and open-source are all unjust. Tellingly, an individual’s most important identity document, his passport, is not his property. He does not own it. Every single passport is government property.

        1. As other commenters have noted, the repercussions of someone assuming your identity can have very tangible, very negative effects on individuals. Identity is owned by entities/objects. You are Arhur Krolman, the only one that occupies the space/body/thoughts etc that make you unique from every other Arhur Krolman. No one or thing owns that identity besides you. Including the public.

          Bare Conductive, First Floor, 98 Commercial St London, E1 6LZ is a unique Bare Conductive. Disingenuously assuming that identity is theft. Of property.

          BTW, you’re saying that patents AND open source are unjust? Then what is just? Please explain. If I understand correctly, you are a proponent of no ownership of anything by individuals and/or entities, which also do not own their identities.

          1. What if someone assumed Bare Conductive’s reputation? Is that ok? For example, Ford Motor Co. had a reputation of making reliable cars at a good price. Then other automotive assembly line copiers came along and gained the same reputation. I’m sure you agree that one cannot own a reputation. Similarly, one cannot own an identity. Sorry to be repetitive, but identity is what other people think of you. If a desperate homeless man dresses up in a suit and parades up and down Pennsylvania Avenue muttering that his name is Barrack Obama, is that just? Yes. But has he not assumed the identity of the President? Yes and no. In his mind, he thinks of himself as the President. In other people’s minds, he has not assumed that identity.

            Similarly, if a desperate Chinese company tries to pretend to be Bare Conductive they might indeed confuse a few casual customers. Serious customers will ring up Bare Conductive’s telephone number (cannot be used by Chinese Co at the same time as Bare, i.e. a phone number is property) or drop by their physical address on Commercial St (property) or go to their unique web address (property) and say, “Hey, is this stuff on Alibaba.com really made by you guys?” And Bare will advise them accordingly.

            And I used the word desperate on purpose. Telling blatant lies to customers or dishonestly pretending to be something else so you can trick people in order to earn a living is desperate and, in my opinion, not the path to prosperity. I also believe that the world’s oldest profession is a desperate way to make a living. But do I believe that bare-faced liars and sex workers should be threatened with fines or jail? No. That would be unjust.

            That takes me to your question, “Then what is just?” All consensual human activity is just that does not involve initiating violence or the threat of violence against the person or physical property of other humans. This is in direct contrast to upholders of current intellectual property law including patent, trademark and copyright. I included open-source in the list of unjust legal concepts because of my understanding that certain open-source frameworks require the user of the idea to make proper attribution and/or make any improvements based on the idea also open-source. Suggestion, fine. Legal requirement, not fine.

            Finally, in contrast to your understanding, I am a very strong believer in the concept of private property. The concept of private property, if adhered to, is the recipe for solving all human conflict. This starts with the concept that each human is the exclusive owner of their physical body. What I reject, is the muddying application of the word “property” and “ownership” to things that are not property. Speaking of dishonesty, I believe the purposeful improper use of the word property to patents or trademarks is a polemic trick to gain supporters: “If we don’t allow trespassing on your farm property, we shouldn’t allow trespassing on your intellectual property, wouldn’t you say?” One is property and the other is not. Bring back the term “royal grants in letters patent” to help people understand that patents are simply government-granted monopolies and get rid of the oxymoron “intellectual property”, I say.

          2. The level of sophistry and rhetoric here is going through the roof.

            An “asset” is synonymous with “property.” In this case, the name Bare Conductive was leveraged and perceived as an asset by three parties – Bare Conductive, the customer, and the counterfeiter. The counterfeiter attributed value to the asset “Bare Conductive,” and stole it. This is initiating harm, as in this case it’s akin to someone breaking into the Bare manufacturing facility and damaging physical property, then selling it. Also, the notion that “serious” buyers in the internet economy are going to call Bare Conductive and ask if they can run quality assurance on a potential counterfeit is naive to say the least. As Matt pointed out, that even on visual inspection the clone “looked pretty good…” This from one of the creators. If Bare was subjected to this on a routine basis, it would be difficult to continue making “better products,” as you said in another comment.

            To your point, there are several types of open source licenses, and for that matter, several different interpretations of open source (https://opensource.org, http://www.oshwa.org/, https://opensource.com/resources/what-open-source). Attribution is important for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the ability for the user community to trace the origins of work for the purposes of upgrade/enhancement/modification/fixes/explanation.

            In the end we can all agree that the counterfeiters actions were dishonorable. They tarnish the objectives of open source, two of which are to teach developers and give them more control of their projects (because the counterfeit didn’t even work).

          3. It just occurred to me that I think we might be talking at cross purposes a little. I’m talking about a theoretical world and you’re talkng about the here and now of Bare Conductive’s unpleasant surprise. I agree that, in today’s IP-full world, brand names are indeed assets (even though they are not property by my definition). But I am proposing a radically different world that is hard even to imagine (just as it was hard for many wise men, including Aristotle, to imagine a world without slavery). I am proposing a world where one has no legal ability to threaten others with fines or jail who imitate your ideas or even your brand name. What would the asset value of brand names like Bare Conductive and Intel and Coca Cola be in that world? Maybe significantly less. Maybe companies spend too much on media moguls, Mad Men and IP lawyers in our world today. Maybe, in an IP-free world, bright humans would focus more on continually improving and making high quality products at lower prices instead of brand advertising and suing counterfeiters. Who knows? What I do know is a world where you may not legally initiate threats of violence against the person or physical property of others would be a more just world.

  5. Imitation is the greatest form of flattery. However, an inferior copy produced with the intention of deception for gain is not.
    Opensource or closed, clones which offer no gain or new option to the original and in fact damage the reputation of the OEM by virtue of their substandard construction and/or performance while attempting to pass as an OEM product is theft and fraud by deception.
    As a community, we should not give such tactics place, but expose them at all opportunity.
    Opensource is a community based on interaction, co-operation, networking and MORALS. Improving the breed is what we are all about, but allowing clones which degrade the standard of the original to continue unchecked hurts us all.

    1. Hi William,

      Thanks for your thoughts. I completely agree. Some of the comments here suggest that I’m frustrated because someone has copied our design. I’m not! I want people to take what we’ve done and make it better or more suited to their application. We wouldn’t have been able to get where we are without free exchange of information and it gives me great pleasure to pass the favour on. Use our files, use our ideas, but please, please don’t use our name! As you say, it is that which is so corrosive to Open Source Hardware and the Maker Movement in general.

      Matt

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Matt Johnson is CEO and co-founder of Bare Conductive Ltd, a London-based company developing electrically conductive materials and hardware. Matt is a bit of a designer and a bit of an engineer and most comfortable being split between the two.

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