The February 1st issue of Industry Week features the story of NEMA member, Schneider Electric's battle to rid the domestic marketplace of counterfeit Square D circuit breakers. NEMA's website documents several of the episodes in this fight. The battle started two years ago with a call from US Customs to Schneider, reporting that an individual had arrived at San Francisco Airport on a flight from China with several suitcases full of circuit breakers. Customs shipped a sample to Schneider, who determined that the circuit breakers were counterfeit. These circuit breakers, after all, are not made in China. But the investigation of the sample revealed more: they were defective. A standard short circuit test applied to the sample produced an explosion at a panelboard that is documented in a photo on Schneider's website. No wonder Schneider is fighting back.
The Industry Week article reports that Schneider, with the cooperation of Chinese authorities, finally raided a source of these defective counterfeit breakers. Schneider had suspected the particular company as a source of the counterfeit breakers. The Chinese source advertised look-alike circuit breakers on alibaba.com, and had even stolen nearly word-for-word from Schneider's website text describing the circuit breakers for its alibaba.com listing. This company had carefully airbrushed the trademarks off the photos of the product to avoid counterfeiting claims. The company's address on the alibaba.com web page turned out to be false, thus making the source difficult to find. A breakthrough linking the suspected source to a US purchaser finally came during discovery in a US lawsuit. The Chinese source even sent the US purchaser a photo of its employees packaging the Square D circuit breakers, which is shown in the Industry Week article.
Some lessons to share from this battle:
1. Record registered trademarks with US Customs. Schneider never would have received a call if their marks had not been recorded with Customs.
2. Monitor the Internet for offers of suspcious product. This is one way foreign knock-off manufacturers reach out to find export customers. Internet surveillance might also detect domestic distribution of counterfeit product.
3. Examine government import records for suspicous product.
4. Use discovery tools in civil litigation to uncover as much information about the source and further resale of counterfeit product.