Can Fly Fishing Do IP Better?
Several weeks ago I got a text pointing me toward the Instagram post below. It’s a fly box that uses a slit silicone material to securely anchor flies. Silicone has virtually no memory, holds flies of almost all sizes, lasts for a really long time and is impervious to water.
I think it is.
And that’s why my friends* at Tacky Fly Fishing thought of it!
The box above is not a Tacky fly box.
This is a Tacky fly box (mine).
So, if you’re acquainted with real Tacky Fly Boxes (patent pending), their other products, the great people behind them, the unique materials, the functional design, the awards, the awesome community they built by crowd funding this venture and their story of getting their fly boxes to market, you’ll perhaps begin to understand why this neon pretender is a problem.
The Tacky crew harnessed kilowatt tons of brain power, spent years of valuable not-so-free time and invested their kids’ lunch money.
This low life, low quality knock offer (alternatively spelled “F-er”) spent about 10 minutes. The conversation probably went something like this (translated from the Mandarin):
Knock F-er #1: “There’s a cool fly box that just hit the market.”
Knock F-er #2: “Let’s knock it off.”
Knock F-er #1: “Let’s.”
How freaking hard was that?
It makes me angry…then sad…then angry again.
If you think it, and it’s unique, you Should own it
Coincidentally, the discovery of the existence of the not-Tacky box came at roughly the same time that another unrelated intellectual property issue reared its stupid ugly head in my life.
I’m not a lawyer but these couple of IP bombs got me all legally incensed and fired up to find out more.
I researched several IP topics on Quora and Wikipedia (you know, the authoritative font of all knowledge) and tried to understand what protections your intellectual property really has in this world.
Turns out it’s kind of stupidly complex, but it does exist. As I’m still not a lawyer, I’m not going to try to explain, defend or assert any actual legalities. I will, however, mention a few types of cases and of course, since I’m me, give my opinion.
There are many stories out there (too many in my opinion) involving IP and ethics issues within the fly fishing industry. I came across tales of competitors knocking of competitors, competitors stealing formulations and copyright violations. This is first-class craptastic behavior. But, in a competitive industry that spreads its dollars as thin as surface film, it’s at least understandable and expected on some level.
I also discovered cases of friends knocking off friends’ products, partners swindling partners and distributors or retailers knocking off their suppliers. These kinds of cases, in my opinion, are worse. They represent violations of basic human decency and, at least, good faith.
Knock it off!
Wait, poor choice of words.
Stop it. Stop it now all you knock F-ers! You should know and do better.
It completely kills creativity when, as an entrepreneur or inventor, your incredible idea that you brought up from a baby, fed with ingenuity, prototyped with love and tried to protect nearly immediately gets thrown to the ravenous pack of knock f-ers. How many times are you going to watch that blood bath unfold?
This is why we can’t have nice things!
Protect Original Ideas, Original Companies and Good People
This ugly mangled baby image brings me to the case at hand and what we should do about it.
Let me start by saying that in this case I don’t pretend to know any of the real legalities, nor all of the circumstances. It’s possible and even likely that Tacky’s pending patent isn’t going to be legally enforced internationally. They potentially may be protected in the USA. But I’m no lawyer, haven’t even played one on TV (yet), and I make no claim of illegal activity or wrongdoing in this situation.
It’s still super lame behavior.
To explain, as you do a little digging, you find discover that Fulling Mill is purportedly Tacky’s exclusive European distributor. As you consider that relationship (brand and distributor), you’ll start to understand why it may leave a bad taste.
What if every retailer just brought in products to understand how to knock them off?
Let’s just say in this case I’m not sending my incredibly awesome under-wader catheter/leg bag combo (in development) off to the UK for distribution.
Or maybe I should?
I have to imagine in this case there was some kind of mutual agreement made. Even if it’s not explicit in the agreement, the fact that you’re selling and representing a product should implicitly indicate that you shouldn’t knock it off or buy a knock off and stamp your brand all over it.
They don’t seem to care. In fact, according to their website (see below) Fulling Mill is proudly displaying their knock off right next to original Tacky products on their site. Apparently, their tag line of “Raising the Game” may not extend to their ethics game.
I’ll state it again that I’m not anywhere near a legal expert. It’s more than likely that Fulling Mill, based in Europe, primarily selling in Europe and likely sourcing from China in this case, is not technically breaking laws. But should that be the standard in fly fishing?
I say no.
In my biased opinion, it’s a shady move to start selling a knock off copy based on a partner’s product, branded with your name, at a lower price point. This kind of business practice can do nothing but damage the originator. And it pisses me and lots of other people off.
When the Knock OFF Garbage Patch Washes Ashore
Some readers may be saying at this point, “What’s the big deal? Someone in Europe is selling a Chinese knock off. Only a few of them will ever really get sold into North American markets.”
That is an astute observation sir. And you would be sort of right. Until it spreads. And, like Zika in a blanket PMD hatch, it doesn’t take long.
Yes, I’m referring to one of the most serious global threats to our fly fishing market environments – NON-NATIVE-INVASIVE-PRODUCTS.
This heinous threat is like a snake head, dining on mud snails, coated in didymo, pooping out zebra mussels, spawning with sea lampreys and hatching wild-eyed, leaping, whirling-diseased mutated Asian carp/Tilapia hybrids.
In short, it’s pretty bad.
And this product has quickly made its way to our waters. Here’s the proof.
Only a week or two after first noticing the not-Tacky boxes in Europe, they insidiously landed here on our shores in North America. Here are a couple of examples.
These things are already taking over, even in the USA and Canada where people in the industry should frankly know better.
It’s only a matter of time before we’re all rinsing off our shoes with Formula 409 after leaving the infected fly shops and entering others.
The knock-off-pocalypse is nigh.
Why Care? The Damage is Real
Ok, I’m no industrial isolationist and I like a good bargain. I’m down with global trade, freeish markets and cheap goods. You can be sure I’m buying my fair share of charging cables, phone cases and all kinds of other crap from the lowest priced seller on Amazon.
I even nod my head in resigned acknowledgement when Mark Cuban tells a Shark Tank entrepreneur that their product will get knocked off. It will (see above).
These are the realities of a global economy where many players don’t play fair and intellectual property is becoming a nice tottering old-fashioned idea.
It’s no big surprise that, like nearly all industries today, fly fishing too has begun to develop an unfortunate culture of companies knocking each other off. Even the most well respected long-standing traditional organizations in the sport sometimes can’t resist the temptation.
But there is a cost.
- It is hurting real people. I know some of them.
- It kills innovation, disincentivizes and demotivates.
In this unfair business environment startups and entrepreneurs can do everything right in terms of filing patents and securing all the appropriate rights, but they simply can’t afford the legal costs of enforcement. The knock f-ers know this and the bigger companies buying and reselling their dope do too.
Some really radical companies making really radical stuff unfortunately can’t survive. And for entrepreneurs there’s simply no incentive to create something super duper if you’re just going to get copied and undersold.
So we’re all left with crap, especially in some less profitable categories (read: zingers).
What should we do?
My remedy is simple (and recognizably naive). Let’s tell Fulling Mill, Bass Pro, TFO and all the other knock f-ers, how we feel. Let’s tell them with our words, with our site traffic (or lack thereof), with our hashtags (I suggest #knockoff and #knock-f-er), with our dwindling support and, most importantly, let’s tell them with our wallets. Let’s lock up our credit cards for life as if they were Manitowoc, WI murderers.
It’s a simple remedy to a complex problem but in fly fishing we are a community, a coalition, an army, a collective (Instagram), and a family. If any group can effectively do these kinds of things to support and protect innovation it’s us.
This is our chance. The only way we can ensure that there continues to be incentive to make awesome stuff is to support the original creators of awesome stuff and spurn the knock offs.
Unlike every other time I go fishing, hopefully I’m not alone on this river.
*Disclaimer: I am on the Tacky Pro Staff and personally acquainted with the owners.