by Eric Kootte
One of the frustrating problems that we’ve encountered over the years has been Copy Cats. Unfortunately, there seem to be a lot of them and we’ve got experience with two different types. One type used our brand name to piggy back onto our stellar reputation in order to sell their cheap, low quality products. They advertised their junk products as “Skid Row” and very literally hurt our hard-earned reputation. The second type bought one or more of our products and then copied them exactly. They then advertised and sold their duplicate versions using their name as if they had designed the product themselves. Both types have been harmful to our business.
We’re not really sure when this started happening. To be honest, we weren’t looking for it since we had never even considered that someone in the offroad business would do something so incredibly unethical! It wasn’t until one of our customers emailed us about an eBay listing he saw that we learned how valuable our name had become to other, less reputable, companies.
It was early 2014 when we were first told that our brand name was being used to sell products that obviously weren’t made by us. We immediately looked into it and found that the Jeep JK engine/transmission skid plates they were selling looked very much like the ones that Rock Hard 4x4 makes. However, they were being advertised as Skid Row® skid plates and were being sold for roughly what it costs to make them here in the USA...and with free shipping, too! Despite their advertised claims to the contrary, I seriously doubt that the folks who did so are offroaders. I also seriously doubt that they ever spent time “rock-crawling the country’s most difficult terrain.” They were just lowlifes looking to make a quick buck by copying others and having parts made cheaply in China.
We eventually figured out that a company in Southern California was importing Chinese-made parts and then selling them as Skid Row® skid plates. They made themselves look like a variety of companies and sold the counterfeit skids through several online outlets including eBay, Amazon, and CarID. Naturally, we sent cease-and-desist letters from our attorney, but never received any response from them. So, we became vigilant and watched online for trademark violations. We’ve filed over a dozen trademark violation complaints with eBay, for example. To their credit, eBay has moved quickly to remove the offending ads every time. Thankfully, it’s been over a year since we last saw one of their skid plate ads using our name.
In addition to the company that had been using our name to sell the skid plate they copied from Rock Hard, there’s been one or more companies selling Jeep foot pegs using our name. They don’t look anything like our foot pegs, but of course, that isn’t the point. We’ve had to file complaint after complaint to preserve our trademark rights. Skid Row® is a federally registered trademark and that does make it easier to fight these freeloaders.
The second type of Copy Cat is harder to stop. For the most part, our products aren’t patentable. Sure, certain features may be, but the cost of actually getting a patent can be very high and that patent still doesn’t guarantee that no one will infringe on it. Besides, if someone does infringe on your patent rights, the cost of hiring an attorney to legally enforce those rights can be prohibitively expensive. No doubt the companies who have copied us were well aware of these issues.
There is a company here in Pennsylvania that copied our JK Lower Control Arm skid plates. They’re such an exact copy that no one could have come up with it “accidentally”. They’re so exact that we strongly suspect they acquired our part drawings from one of the laser shops we’ve worked with. Of course, there’s no way to prove that, but it sure looks like it! They saved themselves the time and cost of developing a new product instead of creating something of their own. One of the frustrating things about this particular Copy Cat is that there are people who think that WE copied THEM! ...and that’s something we have never done and never will do.
In addition to the local Pennsylvania company that copied our JK control arm skid plates, there have been others as well. The first Copy Cat that we became aware of many years ago was a metal fabrication shop somewhere in Ohio. They bought both our TJ radiator guard and our TJ steering box skid plate. They copied them exactly except that they replaced our logo with their logo. ...and copying them exactly is where it gets funny! We had just had a batch of our steering box skid plates cut by a laser shop that we’d never worked with before. The parts looked good initially, but there was an error that we didn’t catch right away. Several of these defective parts were shipped and when our customers had problems we ended up apologizing for our mistake and then replacing the skids. This Copy Cat company had received and copied one of those skid plates without ever checking to see how it fit. We could actually see the error in the photos they posted on their e-commerce website! We got a really good laugh out of that one!
The thing is that damage has been done to our reputation and to our sales because not everyone realizes that the parts they bought weren’t made by us. The skid plates in particular don’t fit or hold up nearly as well as genuine Skid Row® skid plates do and people have had problems. We’ve seen complaints in online forums, but no one had ever contacted us directly about them. To be honest, this is an issue that we still need to address since we really didn’t know how to deal with it in the past. However, as we move forward and become more active on social media, we’ll point out specific problems as we find them. Hopefully, we’ll be able to put this nonsense behind us and not have to constantly fight to keep crooks from stealing our name, hurting our sales, and damaging our reputation.