AN IMPORTANT DISCUSSION ON COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENTS
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then BBR should be praised to the ends of the earth by now. A key player in the mini/pit bike market, BBR has an extensive catalog list of radically different products that have come directly from the minds of Duane, Chris, and Brent Brown. These products, such as their gas cap and perimeter frame, were made while spending countless hours on the computer, through toilsome work handcrafting the pre-production samples, by extensive R&D, and finally completing the idea in the production stages. Needless to say each part has been carefully crafted and constructed, yet many of these same products have been copied by a number of unethical competitors. We decided to discuss this problem with Brent Brown, the V.P./General Manager of BBR.
Where do we start?
The best place to start is by clearing up some misconceptions about our position on this subject. We need to make it clear that BBR has no problem with good, ethical competitors who develop products that compete against us.ÿWe are in a growing market, and competition is driving that market growth.ÿWe also have no problem with the companies who are manufacturing overseas; China, Taiwan, etc….There are a lot of inexpensive mini-bikes being sold in the U.S. that are from legitimate and ethical competitors.ÿWe get really frustrated when we hear someone say that we are bashing Chinese bikes.ÿWe don’t want anyone to have that impression.ÿOur business would not be where it is today without some of these competitors who offer a low-cost way of entering the sport.ÿ
The problem we have is with the unethical competitors.ÿ We simply don’t like the deceptive knockoff companies.ÿThese are the ones that just take an existing product, either from us or one of our good competitors, and copy it.ÿ Stealing technology is a true sin in the eyes of any innovative company, and is terrible for consumers and the market.
Currently how many BBR products have been copied by other companies?
To date, we think it is about 60.ÿWe’re not talking about just a rendition of one of our parts; we are saying that there are knockoff copies of about 60 of our products. These imitationsÿrange from Gas Caps, all the way to our complete Perimeter Framed Bikes.ÿIt’s really ridiculous.ÿThere is a company right now that has evenÿknocked-off our special Limited Edition Ricky Carmichael 110 that BBR and Fox put together with Ricky Carmichael. It’s justÿa slap to everyone involved in the project, and disturbing to see all the cheap, flimsy overseas stuff on this knockoff.ÿ
Can you spot the copycat?
How does BBR handle infringements?
We have been successful allowing our Intellectual Property attorneys toÿhandle most of the infringers, and we actually have foundÿthat theÿinfringers we callÿto be prettyÿunderstanding about our concerns. A lot of the importers and a lot of the dealers in the United States don’t even realize they are infringing.ÿIf they are decent people, we simply have to send them documentation on our Trademarksÿor Patents, and they move on to something else.ÿThere are others who will outright challenge us to go after them.ÿWhen that happens, we oblige.ÿ We are fortunate to have an excellent group of attorneys who really know what they are doing.ÿWe hate having to spend the money on this stuff, but we have to do what’s right.
What percentage of these copied products are manufactured by Chinese companies?ÿ
Almost all of them.ÿ But we are not placing any blame on the Chinese factories.ÿ We have some excellent manufacturers in China ourselvesÿwho help us with things we simply can’t do in the U.S. anymore due to some regulations, like castings, forging and chroming.ÿThe real offenders are the people or companies that order up a legitimate BBR product, and send it over to be replicated.ÿWe will spend 15 months and huge amounts of moneyÿperfecting the look, geometry, fit and function of a product.ÿOnce we introduce the product, it’s only taking about two months before we see a knockoff product.ÿChina just happens to be the best option for low-cost manufacturing right now.
What is the number one most copied BBR product?
I’m not sure if there’s a single Chinese knockoff bike out there without one of our chain guides or skid-plates on it. One of the most recent knockoff targetsÿis our D-Section Exhaust system.ÿThey’ve copied the shape of our can and the billet end cap (using a cast aluminum instead of true 6061 aluminum), but that’s where it ends.ÿWe laugh,ÿbecause the rest of the exhaustÿsystem is almost unusable.ÿ They have done nothing to get the pipeÿsize, length and internals correct. It’s amazing the pipe works at all on a bike, and certainly will reduce power on anyÿgood bike.ÿ It’s a catch 22 for the knockoff companies.ÿTheyÿcould copy all of the internal exhaust system correctly without any problem, but then the cost of the knockoffÿwould be too high and they wouldn’t be able to price them inexpensively and produce them in mass quantities.ÿIt’s the consumer who gets screwed.ÿEven if they know they are buying a knockoff, they have noÿidea that the knockoff is radically different. It’s what’s inside the exhaust system that makes theÿsystemÿgood or bad.ÿ ÿ
Why doesn’t BBR just patent these items?ÿ
We do have patents where it makes sense.ÿWe have patents on our key items like our Perimeter frames, and we do a good job protecting our trade names and copyright info.ÿBut patents are just a license to protect yourself, and to initiate a suit against an infringer is an extensive process.ÿI don’t want to say too much about our strategy for dealing with infringers, but we believe our plan is a good one.ÿWe never want any litigation, but at the same time we are committed to protecting our brand name and innovations.ÿ
How can one tell if a product is knocked off or not?ÿ
It will have some goofy logo or brand on it, and you can pay for it along with your slurpee.ÿAll joking aside, most legitimate dealers don’t waste much time with the knockoff products.ÿTheir good customers don’t want to show up at the races with fake parts on their bikes.ÿThe dealers also are astute enough to know that they will have to deal with a lot of quality issues. It’s really pretty easy to tell the differences if you are familiar with genuine BBR parts.ÿThe general look of the part is the same, but the materials and craftsmanship difference is really noticeable.ÿThose who can’t tell the difference are the ones we worry about.ÿThey think they are getting a good deal on a BBR-style product because it looks the same.ÿThey don’t see the real difference in the materials used or the internal manufacturing.ÿA good example is suspension components.ÿThere are a lot of knockoff companies producing look-alike forks and shocks.ÿOur SP-5 Forks have been knocked-off many times, but the internal components of these knockoffs are terrible.ÿSome don’t even have the correct bushings.ÿThat’s why you see a lot of knockoff suspensionÿbouncing like a pogo stick.ÿ
How do you keep track of what products are knocked off?
That’s what has been so amazing about this whole thing, we literally have hundreds of emails each month from customersÿor people we don’t even know who alert us to the most recent knockoffs.ÿOur good friends in the industry watch out for us too, and we watch out for them.ÿIt’s not just BBR getting knocked off, its anyone who has products thatÿsell in volume quantities.ÿWe also keep a close eye on the marketÿourselves.ÿWe have 30 employees who are so entrenched in the industry;ÿI think we are pretty in-tune with almost everything that goes on.ÿThe funniest is when the knockoff companies call us and offer to sell us the BBR knockoff bikes! We’ve been emailed photos of our bikes right off of our website, and are told that we can buy containers of them for under $1,000 each.ÿ I don’t think we’ve ever laughed as hard as the day we were offered the new “BBK”, with the taglineÿ”Horsepower for make faster!”.ÿIt’s just nice to know that we have so many great friends in the industry who watch out for us.ÿ
How have the infringements affected BBR?
Ours sales are strong, and 2006 will be another record year for us, so I’m not sure how to answer that. It’s our opinion that peopleÿdon’t swerve away fromÿbuying aÿPorsche because theÿKia’s are on sale, and I think we are in the same position.ÿIt’s the industry that is suffering, and that’s what will hurt BBR in the long run.ÿPeople are buying theseÿknockoff bikes expecting them to at least be good copies, and then get discouraged in the sport when the thing falls apart on them.ÿThen they get discouraged when they comeÿto us for help, and we don’t have the replacement parts to help. Even though they areÿknockoffs, ourÿgood parts don’t always fit on them because they are so variable. It’s frustrating when we don’t have any solutionÿother than toÿtry to sell them a good legitimate product.ÿSome realize that they simply have to step up, and others are angry becauseÿthey are expecting us to be the source for replacement parts.ÿWe feel the worst about the younger kids who save up to buy one of these imitations only to find out theyÿgot what they paid for.ÿWeÿtakeÿten calls a day from theseÿdiscouraged kids.ÿIt’s so much better to spend the money on a factory Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki or Suzuki and work your way up with components.
How do you approach these companies?ÿ
We do everything we can to not come across as bullies. It’s not good for business, but more important, it’s not who we are.ÿWe just want to produce the best products on the market, and we want to be left alone to do that. But we can’t ignore the fact that customers are getting snowed by these knockoff BBR parts.ÿIt would be irresponsible for us to allow it to happen to them.ÿIf customers think the knockoffs are exact copies, then they might become disappointed in BBR, and we’ll never have a chance to show them what our products are really all about.ÿOur approach depends on the infringer.ÿIf they don’t realize what they are doing, we try to just work with them to understand our concern.ÿIf they are nasty about it, we have no choice but to protect ourselves.
What should people know about these infringers/violators?ÿ
The number one thing is that these are NOT motocross people.ÿTheyÿthink R&D workÿis justÿbuying a legitimate part, packing it in a suitcase, and flying it to China.ÿThey don’t break any bones testing the products;ÿthey don’t spend a single dime of R&D money. It simply doesn’t cost anything when we’ve already done it.ÿThey just copy it.ÿThey don’t support the race community; they don’t spend theÿtime researching the correct materials;ÿetc..one of the most important things I wish people would consider is the support after the sale.ÿI can’tÿtell you how many calls we get each day from people dealing with a problem on these imitations. These are the same people who knockoff all kinds of products.ÿThey see a rapid growth market, and jump in as fast as they can to make a buck.ÿThese are the same guys that sell knockoff beer signs andÿcheap watches.ÿThey are very smart, but have absolutely no clue who Ricky Carmichael is.ÿIt’s amazing.ÿWe’ve made contact with a number of these companies, and it’s like swatting at a bee’s nest.ÿYou need to have thick skin when you talk to them because the first thing they do is insult your products and business sense. It’s hard to watch anyone’s money go to these guys.
What can you do to stop this problem?ÿ
I think the best thing we can do is to educate the consumers so they know the pitfalls of buying these knockoffs.ÿNobody wants the sport to grow more than we do, and the knockoffs are really putting a blemish on the industry. Any industry that is dealing with knockoffs is a stifled industry. Innovation is slow because you have to get in position to protect yourself before you can release a product. I think we will try to do our best to just continue to innovate as fast as we can, and keep our focus on what’s ahead of us. I think we also have to continually remind ourselves that the knockoff products really aren’t fooling anybody.ÿYou don’t see Chinese knockoff bikes winning any of the races.ÿIt’s also pretty clear that the market for these knockoffs is weak.ÿI thinkÿmost of the true industryÿis staying away from them.ÿPeople who want genuine products will seek out the manufacturers who are putting the time and energy into quality and performance.ÿIf we can just keep people informed that there truly is a difference, we will be happy.