The owner of a small business in Ohio claims a product she invented and sells online is being counterfeited by a Chinese manufacturer, who is selling the alleged knockoff on the same popular website.
Annie Pryor of Bellbrook invented “Mommy Genius Bottle and Bag Drying Rack,” a kitchen countertop device that has sold about 2,000 units on Amazon.com since she launched the product there in May 2013.
In June, Pryor discovered that a seller named Jack Huang was using her Amazon listing to sell what appears to be a counterfeit version of her product, including replicas of her hang tag and packaging. “They weren’t just making a similar product; they were trying to pass them off as my drying rack,” she said.
Counterfeiting cases aren’t common in the Dayton region, but intellectual property crime happens frequently in the U.S. and abroad, said Attorney Thomas E. Lees, whose local firm specializes in patent, trademark, copyright and trade secret law.
In fiscal year 2013, the Department of Homeland Security seized counterfeit goods valued at more than $1.7 billion at U.S. borders, a 38 percent increase from the previous year. The number of intellectual property rights seizures increased nearly 7 percent to 24,361.
The U.S. Patent Office is expected to issue Pryor’s design a patent number in the coming weeks, which could help get the alleged knockoff removed from Amazon, said Lees, who represents Pryor.
“We are going to take our first steps with Amazon … and see what their response is,” Lees said. “Once the patent is issued we’ll also reach out to Mr. Huang and make him aware that the patent is issued, and we will request that he respect our rights.”
The People’s Republic of China is the primary source economy for counterfeit and pirated goods seized by Homeland Security, with a total value of $1.1 billion, representing 68 percent of intellectual property rights seizures by retail price in fiscal 2013. Homeland Security also made seizures from 73 additional economies during the same period.
Tactical interagency collaboration led by the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center led to 693 arrests, 411 indictments and 465 convictions for intellectual property rights crimes in fiscal 2013. In addition, 1,413 Internet domain names distributing counterfeit merchandise were seized.
Pryor, who has a doctorate in biochemistry from Ohio State University, started developing her product in 2010 to dry wet bibs from her children, now ages 10, 6 and 3. She then revamped her design several times to also dry sports water bottles, baby bottles, food storage bags and hand towels, among other items.
The drying racks are manufactured by Stevens Wire Products Inc. in Richmond, Ind. They are made from steel wire with a rust-resistant chrome finish, and retail for $39.95.
Pryor operates Mommy Genius from her home and credits Amazon for much of her success. “When I sold my drying rack just on my own website, I sold about five a month. Putting it on Amazon jumped to 50 a month, because that’s where the shoppers go,” she said.
Pryor contacted Huang after discovering that he was selling the alleged knockoff via her Amazon listing and made him aware her design was patent pending. “He responded and said: ‘We really like this item. We had it made in China to sell on Amazon.’”
Unlike her product, the Chinese-made version has sharp metal edges and will rust easily, Pryor said.
Huang has since removed his drying rack from Pryor’s listing and is now selling the product on Amazon at a lower price under the name “Good Go Shop,” she said.
While the alleged knockoff is no longer being sold as a Mommy Genius product, Pryor said the drying rack remains her intellectual property.
Lees said companies such as Amazon and eBay don’t remove items from their websites based on accusations, but instead have formal procedures to address ownership rights issues.
“I feel confident that so long as the alleged counterfeit product remains on Amazon at the time that we get our patent number, I’m hoping Amazon will be cooperative in getting it down,” Lees said.
Dave Larsen - Dayton Daily News, Ohio (MCT)
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