Gary Stanfill is
principle consultant for Colmar Systems, based in Southern California. His
company has provided engineering and marketing consulting services to
wireless microphone manufacturers for several years. Stanfill was
president and general manager of Vega, a leading manufacturer of wireless
microphone systems, for 18 years. He has over 30 years experience in
audio, RF technology, communications and wireless systems. Gary can be
reached at email@example.com
the issue of product design theft
Imitation is the sincerest
form of flattery, it's said. But try telling that to a pro audio
manufacturer whose killer new product design has just been ripped off by
This "someone" is a knockoff manufacturer. Someone who didn't
spend months or years and hundreds of thousands of dollars inventing the
new product. Someone who didn't agonize over achieving just the right mix
of performance, features and price. Someone who didn't take any of the
This "someone" is a thief.
Not so long ago, when a manufacturer brought out a product that became
popular, competitors would rush to bring out their own versions. However,
these companies would attempt to improve upon the original product: to
increase performance, add worthwhile features, correct small shortcomings
in the original design and offer a better product.
This model has served the audio industry well over the years, although it
has not always been kind to the innovators. That’s capitalism - it
works, and has consistently resulted in better and more reliable products,
major strides forward in audio quality, new ways of doing things, and
And skillful people and companies have made money the old fashioned way:
they’ve earned it.
Imitation As Flattery?
Blatant rip-offs of successful products have become a major problem. These
are direct copies of products, designed to mimic the original product in
almost ever detail, often cleverly packaged and promoted in such a way as
to deliberately confuse buyers.
In many cases, the actual design is virtually a direct copy of the
original, with a few key corners cut. Of course, these products are always
cheaper, a “bargain” that is presented as being "just as
good" as the real thing.
Unless you’re a manufacturer, or work for one, why should you care?
Aside from the obvious ethical issues, there are many very good reasons.
First, a good many of the products being ripped off are developed by North
American companies, and those doing the ripping off are headquartered
These entities don't hire your neighbors to design, build, test or sell
their products. In fact, they may cost your friends and neighbors their
jobs. They pay little or no taxes to support schools, hospitals, police
and fire departments, or repair roads. They don't buy their parts and
supplies in your area.
Still not impressed? After all, you get all the "features" of
the original product, and at a lower price. Or do you? Features are not
performance; they are knobs, buttons, connectors and "stuff.”
And features are not audio quality; in fact, most features are cheaper to
implement if you don't worry about how the equipment actually sounds. And
features are not reliability, long-term dependability and customer
Robbing Peter To Pay Paul?
There is also the question as to where all those savings actually came
from. Certainly labor costs are much lower in many parts of the world as
compared to North America. But automated manufacturing can make up a good
deal of the difference, while transportation costs, tariffs, taxes and
various other costs further narrow the gap.
This means that most of the savings must come from somewhere else.
Reducing component quality is one of the easiest ways of cutting cost.
Wide tolerance, cheap parts cost much less than quality components, but
their useful life will likely be far shorter.
And if a “bargain” piece of equipment does fail, can you get it fixed?
Warranties tend to be short and once a unit is out of warranty, service
might not even be available. Often this means that the equipment has to be
Engineering is even more expensive. Designing quality products is not easy
or simple, and the process is time consuming. Just defining a successful
product is often quite difficult and few companies routinely get it right
on the first pass.
As a result, somewhere between 8 percent and 20 percent of the cost of a
high-tech product goes to pay for engineering. What a huge savings if a
company just steals someone else’s design and avoids all those nasty
One of my more interesting experiences while working at a high-end
wireless company was to see mistakes and schematic errors faithfully
copied by the knockoff artist!
What’s The Real Solution?
Why don't manufacturers take legal action to stop the rip-offs? A few
larger companies do. Unfortunately, however, almost all of the knockoff
manufacturers are in countries that refuse to protect the intellectual
property of other countries. Plus, litigation is expensive.
The real solution to the problem is in the hands of the people who specify
and purchase audio equipment. Until they resist buying knockoffs, both
because it’s the right thing to do and because it’s in their own
self-interest, the problem is likely to continue.
Fakes - sent in by Falco (2007)
product and packaging is, at first glance very close. There are a couple
of giveaway signs - the colour code ring on the transmitter was the
wrong colour, and the buttons on the receiver are also the wrong finish.
When you take the basket off the mic, you can see then that it's not a
genuine capsule, and as you unscrew it and pull it apart, it becomes
increasingly apparent. Same with the receiver. Apart from the buttons
(which a punter wouldn't spot anyway), it's when you get inside it that
you see the boards are totally different. Again though - a punter
wouldn't know that! Although they are far better than some copies
I've seen recently! Most, most annoying.
Some greedy punters
just can't get their heads around the adage that if an offer seems
too good to be true, then it almost certainly is too good to be
true. put a buyer's guide up on ebay some months ago to this affect, but
unfortunately some people's greed for a "bargain" gets the better of
them. Learn more at:
Winning the Battle Against Counterfeiting (2009)
The problem of counterfeit
consumer electronics and MI goods is not going to disappear overnight,
but Sennheiser UK is committed to supporting its dealers and end users
by doing everything in its power to combat the steady trickle of
counterfeit Sennheiser goods coming into the UK from China and Hong
The good news is that in the battle against counterfeiters selling
inferior, unauthorised products illegally bearing the Company's logo,
Sennheiser is winning. Debbie Tyler, Sennheiser UK's Director of HR, is
leading the fight against the counterfeiters.
||"We have developed
an excellent working relationship with HM Revenue and Customs,"
explains Tyler. "Every time they seize a shipment of counterfeit
products which is on a regular basis now they send us
samples of the goods for us to examine. Some counterfeits are
obvious to spot, as they'll contain Chinese lettering or an
incorrect logo. Although the more accurate counterfeits look
near to perfect. The difference is the makers have used inferior
plastics and components. In some cases it's necessary for our
Engineering department to confirm that they are counterfeit
||"Once Sennheiser UK
declares that they are fake HM Customs destroys the shipment, at
Sennheiser's cost. Sennheiser is passed the details of the
person or company that sent the shipment, and its intended
destination and then takes legal action through Sennheiser's
Parent Company. There are ongoing cases right now.
"We're also working very closely with the Trading Standards
Authority nationwide. If a consumer gets in touch with them,
believing they've been sold substandard goods bearing the
Sennheiser name, we're able to confirm immediately that the
products are counterfeit, enabling Trading Standards to take
legal action against the retailer."
The problem for authorised
dealers is that some consumers are choosing to make their purchases
on-line for what they believe are bargains at better-than-store prices.
The problem for those consumers is that they've purchased inferior
products. Sennheiser receives calls on a daily basis from customers
wondering why the microphones and headphones sound poor or have fallen
apart; the unwelcome answer is that their goods haven't been made by
Sennheiser at all.
The Internet is the major retail point for virtually all counterfeit
Sennheiser products many have been found on eBay, and the Internet is
where Sennheiser UK is focussing its efforts at these unwelcome points
Sennheiser UK do not knowingly sell direct to dealers who sell on eBay
or similar auction sites. If any Sennheiser product is advertised as new
and is heavily discounted, it is unlikely to be genuine. For customers
to be sure they're buying a genuine product Sennheiser strongly
recommends buying from an authorised Sennheiser retailer. A list of
these retailers is available at
"If you type the word Sennheiser into the popular auction sites you
automatically receive a warning that the company and its dealers do not
sell products on auction sites and what you'd be purchasing could very
well be a counterfeit product," continues Tyler. "On top of that,
Sennheiser UK is continually shutting down unauthorised dealers selling
on eBay through a programme called VeRO. We investigate all UK based
vendors selling so-called Sennheiser products and send them a message
that states that Sennheiser owns the intellectual rights. That message
goes to the vendor and eBay, who are forced to remove the product in a
matter of hours. We are re mo ving i lleg al pages on a daily basis. One
morning recently we shut down 400 pages. eBay are being very supportive.
Having paid 40 million Euros to Louis Vuitton after a court case about
counterfeit goods, they¹re very concerned about the problem."
This ongoing fight against illegal traders is beginning to get results.
Dealers and end users are now sending suspicious eBay links to
Sennheiser UK and the number of links for Sennheiser products on eBay is
coming down noticeably.
"We're working with Amazon and Amazon marketplace too," adds Tyler. "If
you type Sennheiser into Amazon you get a warning about fake products,
although it has been less of a problem there than on eBay."
The battle is not being fought in Britain alone. Sennheiser UK's parent
company in Germany is attacking the problem at source and is
investigating various facilities under suspicion of manufacturing
counterfeit products in China. It's a slow process.
"The most important thing," concludes Tyler, "is that people are
starting to understand that there are a lot of counterfeit electronic
goods out in the market. Our message is to always buy Sennheiser
products from an authorised dealer. And essentially, if you see a deal
that appears to be too good to be true, that's because it isn't. We
think this message is beginning to filter through."
For more information about Sennheiser please visit
12.02.2009 - Sennheiser Germany
China: Large amounts of
product copies seized by Neutrik
||Thanks to tireless efforts
Ningbo Neutrik succeeded in taking legal actions against shops
which sell Neutrik product copies. In close cooperation with the
authorities in Guangzhou a razzia in the Guangzhou Component
Distribution Center took place on 2nd March 2009. This concerted
action was accompanied by the quality manager of Ningbo Neutrik
Electronics Co. Ltd. who clearly identified the confiscated
product copies on site. In total more than 100,000 connector
copies were seized and destroyed.
fact, the success of this measure exceeded the expectations of
Neutrik considerably so that Neutrik feels confirmed in its
intention to continue in suing product copiers in a calculated
and adamant way and to strike back at them with all means and
instruments that are available for this purpose. See more at