Many inventors turn to funding platforms such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo to get backing for their patent-pending products. While hundreds of thousands of innovative products have come to life with the support of crowdfunding sites, making it such an attractive option for cash-strapped inventors, there are those who have become victims of fast-acting counterfeit and knockoff artists.
Steve Suddell, inventor of the “Neck Hammock,” raised just over $200k on Kickstarter. He was on cloud nine – for about a minute. A week later, he began receiving angry emails from backers stating that his product was being sold for 50% less on other websites. After some investigation, he found websites featuring all of his images, videos, and content, advertising the Neck Hammock at half the price. He was concerned that Kickstarter would take his project down (as was the case with another product campaign, C-Rest), because the listings violated their policy of “not being able to sell the product anywhere else as long as the campaign is active.” The problem was, his product was not being sold elsewhere; rather, it had been copied and counterfeited. This has become very common with Kickstarter projects, and while Kickstarter is aware of the problem, it has not taken any steps to help the creators/inventors on its platform.
Yekutiel Sherman also knows all too well what it’s like to become a victim of China’s lightning-speed copycats. After he launched his Kickstarter campaign (but prior to manufacturing his first unit) of the “Stikbox,” a smartphone case that turns into a selfie stick, a cheap knockoff version of the product was being sold on AliExpress at half the price.
Unfortunately, these experiences are not uncommon. Crowdfunding platforms, Amazon and sites like Taobao have become feeders for knock-off artists to source other people’s new gadgets. These companies are deep-pocketed, and can get a product manufactured and sold well before the inventor’s campaign is fully funded. This just goes to show that your brilliant idea – even if it is patented or trademarked – could be on sale through Chinese distributors or other bootleggers even before you’ve gotten your project funded.
If you are an inventor who is considering using a crowdfunding site to fund your new idea, be diligent in protecting your proprietary information. There are strategies you can employ that describe the features, advantages, benefits and objectives of your invention without disclosing key details that would enable someone else to rip you off. Consider scheduling a consultation with an experienced intellectual property attorney who can provide you with some affordable strategies to protect your product, such as working with U.S. Customs and Border Control.