It’s no secret that many American small businesses are still suffering from the effects of the pandemic. As a small business owner, I know how difficult it is to get back on your feet after a tough year. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t the only significant challenge facing companies like mine. Selling counterfeit goods on online marketplaces continues to wreak havoc and I have watched counterfeiters steal my intellectual property and my company’s potential revenue.
After proudly serving in the U.S. military and then completing my bachelor’s degree from SDSU, I began making moving belts in 1998. Based in California, Forearm Forklift Lifting Straps aims to make moving heavy furniture, large appliances, and mattresses easier with the lever sling system I invented. For years I invested everything I had and eventually secured a patent that would supposedly protect my design and the market I was creating.
Running your own business is always a challenge, but unfortunately for the past 11 years I have struggled to protect my patent from counterfeiters selling fake versions of Forearm Forklift on online marketplaces. Since then, our small family business has been on the verge of collapse as Amazon has done little to prevent counterfeits of our product from being sold on its marketplace. By 2015, our business was hit so badly by this violation of the law and the e-commerce giants making counterfeit sales easier through lax oversight that we had less than $ 5,000 in annual profits and had to lay off many of our employees. What was once our flourishing flagship became a stolen design on Amazon. Third party dealers, hiding behind anonymous company names and often operating in China, began to use our name, pictures, logo and labels on our original product at a reduced price.
Our innovative patent no longer seemed to matter. Although we have reported thousands of fakes to Amazon alone, they have robbed us of our right to report for refusing to prosecute these criminals. And it should be noted that before Amazon denied our right to report, the claims fees we paid were less than $ 67,000, which is barely enough to reinstate the workers we had to lay off.
While first-time customers are buying cheap counterfeits of our product, they are most likely not aware of how it will affect my business. When problems arise with the counterfeit product, they believe that my company is making poor quality and dangerous tools and our reputation is tarnished. E-commerce platforms have a responsibility to protect patents and copyrights. Online shoppers also deserve to get what they think they are buying, safe, authentic products that are not cheap imitators.
Legislative action is needed to protect my business and others from criminals who benefit from counterfeiting. The INFORM Consumers Act, introduced in the US Senate, is the necessary protection to combat this type of crime. Bipartisan legislation requires e-commerce websites to verify third-party information such as: B. Government-issued ID and required contact information. That way, when someone tries to steal intellectual property from a legitimate company, there are some accountability measures and safeguards in place.
Small businesses urgently need the Consumer Information Act, especially since online marketplaces play a bigger role in our shopping behavior. Ecommerce platforms haven’t taken the steps to protect us, so lawmakers should ensure that other small businesses don’t suffer the same fate as mine. God bless America!
Mark Lopreiato is the owner of Forearm Forklift, a tool manufacturer based in Baldwin Park, California.