This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

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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.

Awesome idea.

Right?


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).

The Real Tacky Fly Box

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.

Screen-Shot-2016-02-09-at-7.46.07-PM
Screen shot of the Fulling Mill home page Feb 9. 2016. (source: fullingmill.co.uk)

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.

not-Tacky fly boxes
Screen shot of not-Tacky fly box at Bass Pro (source: basspro.com)

And another.

'nother not-Tacky fly box
Screen shot of not-Tacky fly box at TFO (source: templeforkoutfitters.ca)

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.

  1. It is hurting real people. I know some of them.
  2. 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.
 
 



17 Comments

  1. I hope when their patent comes through, they can sue their a$$es of for BIG dollars! Shame on Bass Pro Shops! Shame on anyone who, after knowing the whole story about the rip-off, buys this crap. Let’s support our fellow fly fishermen who innovate and drive the industry.

  2. Is it Illegal to write bad reviews on this product wherever it is sold?

    • Don’t take this as authoritative legal interpretation, but I believe that the first amendment actually protects speech. Companies are more restricted in what they can say about other companies, but as a private citizen I believe you’re free to express your opinion, especially where the company is actually soliciting your opinion by providing a review function on their site.

      • That can be tricky water that would also cause us to compromise our morals if any untruths were reported. Yes we have freedom of speech, but to lie about a product isn’t any better than what they are doing and is also considered slander. That being said, no one can argue your actual opinion so do some research and find either a legitimate fault of their box or a definite advantage of the Tacky box even if it’s just a preference and leave the lowest review possible. I would even go as far as stating an opinion of Fulling Mills business ethics and post a link to this article if possible.

  3. It’s sad to see this happen, but it happens to just about everything. Almost all products have knock offs whether it’s fly patterns, toys, tools, etc you’ll encounter this. Businesses exist to make profit and sometimes will even if it requires less than honest means. A good quality fly box with a new idea is no exception to this social Darwinism of capitalism. I hope it works out for the Tacky guys once they get the patent. I don’t like the 0% work for 100% money, but it makes since why someone would do it. I guess I’m just saying there shouldn’t be as big of a surprise that knock offs happen. Good luck to those that create these things and help the industry.

    Tight Lines,
    Luke

    Ti

    • You’re right. Just wanted to shine a light on this and other cases in fly fishing. Hopefully the awareness can help people decide which products and businesses to support.

  4. Why havent they covered the product before marketing? Lesson learned maybe.

    • You’re right in some respects. But the patent was filed which serves as notice to those who might duplicate it that they may have to stop selling their knock off products or pay royalties or damages when the patent is issued.

  5. This was always going to happen. I met with the guys from Tacky 2 years ago and in fact a friend sent me information on the Tacky boxes before this as well and i loved the idea. I sell them in my shop and sell lots of them. I spoke about distributing them in the Uk and know that FM were also in talks with Tacky. Ultimately as a much smaller company then FM i decided to not continue to look to distribute because the far east will always copy such ideas and at a cheaper price. I could not afford to have 100’s left in stock when this happened. FM have done a brilliant job at distributing Tacky in the UK and although i can understand that it maybe is in poor taste to also sell cheaper boxes that are similar to Tacky there is a market for both.Anyway i look forward to seeing some cool new stuff from Tacky soon including i hope a waterproof box.

  6. What I read here is absolutely enraging!!!

    Greed? Greed is when you make a paper airplane and try to pattent it so no other kid in the world is allowed to make it, in order for you and you alone to make million$$$$. THAT’S GREED!

    Competition is what makes us better. When the “native americans” invaded America from Asia, they had no competition and a rich enviorenment. They never evolved: stayed as cavemen…To contrast, Europeans lived harshly, with FIERCE competition and that resulted in the modern civilized world. What gives you the right to patent the right to cut out little slots in foam, in order to eliminate competition, and pump up your prices to rip off customers and put the extra dollar in your pocket? Next thing I know, you paint the toilet seat the color white and patent it and sue everyone in the world who has a white toilet seat?

    Fly stores should be BANNED for pure greed. A 1000$ fly rod?? They buy a rod blank for 350$, add a 100$ reel seat and 50$ worth of guides at most, and sell it for 1000+$. THATS GREED. The worst part is, is that nobody really wants to sell those rod blanks to you, unless you are a fly store owner…

    If you get hurt by not making an extra buck by selling foam cut outs, just imagine how many MILLIONS of people are getting HELPED by a better priced product that they can afford EVERYWHERE.

    You are the one hurting people by trying to patent something that belongs to EVERYONE. You are anti-society. You are breaking every rule in the flyfishing world. Flyfishermen don’t pattent their flies! They SHARE THE RECIPE!!!!

    • Well, that’s one opinion. The social Darwinist part is quite enlightening. I’m not sure if you read the article prior to creating a fake email address to submit your comment or not but your comment does indicate a few things: You like paper airplanes (me too), don’t understand the nature of the innovation in this case (silicon, not foam, a new material for fly boxes), have disturbing ideas about short-term human evolutionary processes vs. imperialistic violence, greatly overestimate fly box sales figures, are possessed of the list of “fly fishing rules” and have a beef with your local fly shop.

      With a more careful read you may notice, I’m not claiming a patent exists (only that one has been filed, that’s it), I am stating an opinion (just as you have on your assumed reasons for the mass genocide and subjugation of native Americans), I don’t make a dollar (nor a dime) on this product and, while I do believe in the ideal of intellectual property, I’m not anti-competition (nor society as you suggest). I mostly just believe business partners should deal with each other in a respectful manner and that consumers in this case should make up their own minds about which kinds of products and companies they support. You too have that right. I hope your knock off fly rod catches you many fish from waters once part of the historic range of native Americans.

      Where we agree: greed is involved.

      • Jake that was a thought out, well-measured response. I’ve written three response to it and just cannot seem to construct a response to that scattered line of reasoning. Maybe a swift kick in the groin and a frontal lobotomy will help me see the light.

        He does understand that it is not foam cutouts right? There is technology and genius behind these innovations and that should reward somebody or is that not fair to the dimwits?

        If I understand the argument he hates the small innovators getting paid for their years of working for no pay, hours away from their family and friends, and time in the garage toiling away rather than being on a river enjoying their beloved sport?

        Instead, he dons his knee pads and worships at the feet of big business thinking the low prices at the local Big Box Outdoor store show an altruistic business model? Judging by the casual dismissal of Native Americans I guess sweatshops in southeast Asia are less greedy than hard working folks here getting a piece of the profit? Along this same line of reasoning the tactics used to drive out the Native Americans; lies, broken treaties, genocide, are acceptable and even commendable as long as it drives his pricing down??

        The fact that he wants to ban Fly Shops was the dead give away he’s been snorting Dry Float way too often. He wants to get rid of the experts who freely give you their time and expertise even if you do not buy their rods? These are also the folks with boots on the ground when it comes to conservation and preservation and he wants them gone so he can buy a rod he most likely cannot handle at a K-mart price.

        See if you can get his address, I’ll get him a set of golf clubs and a lesson at his local country club. Both he and the sport of fly fishing will be better served by it.

        PS: Tell those guys from Tacky to quit their day jobs and start enjoying the life of the rich and famous. Now that I know they are making MILLIONS I am just insulted when I see them working 9-5 at their current positions.

        • Ha. Lucid thoughts and beautiful words as usual D. Dummies gotta dumm. Better they do it on the golf course.

  7. In Canada there are only 3 brother behemoth phone companies. Every year they double their prices and half their services. The minimum phone plan offered is a 90$ 4 year contract and you get 120 minutes and 50mb of data. If you go over your ridiculously impossibly low limit, you get your liver taken out.

    Then came along a new Canadian baby company who offered service just like in Europe and USA, but for 19$ only. What did the behemoths do? They killed him. Sued him, attacked him “because he was bad for business”. They beat him with a stick till dead.

    You are no different from those behemoths. I would bet anything that if given the chance, you would destroy the very world you live on for an extra dollar in your greedy pocket. You think you can take away basic rights from the rest of the world…. Go move to North Korea and do that greedy garbage there!

    I bet you will moderate this comment so it never appears on here… if you delete it, that just proves my point!

    • This is challenging logic. So, you are comparing monopolistic corporate greed of huge mega utility companies to innovative start up fly box companies who you assume can destroy the world?

      For clarity, I don’t make anything either way. I’ll consider your invitation to emigrate to North Korea. Are you from there by chance?

    • Cool story, Bro.

      What two people here aren’t understanding is that when someone puts in the work and effort to come up with something new and better, they deserve the benefit of that work.

      When you remove that benefit, people will stop trying to create new or better things. (And this box is new and better. The fact that someone referred to “foam” shows that he came in with his own opinion and didn’t even make it through a quarter of the article with any critical thinking.) You’ll get your cheap foam boxes and would never have seen a silicon box.

      Intellectual property is property. You want to take it without paying for it. There’s a word for taking something that’s not yours without paying for it.

      But socialism is the kind of flavor of the decade, so I can see how you want to take from those who work harder than you to come up with something no one else has. If they don’t do it for free, it’s “Greed”. If you’re cheap, buy something cheap. Don’t demand that something nice be taken from someone smarter and harder-working than you so you can have nicer things without paying what it costs.

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