How a Shapeways 3D print got knocked off in China

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Oskar_van_Deventer, Oct 24, 2015.

What would you have done?

  1. Do nothing and ignore the knock-off

  2. File a complaint with the Chinese patent office

  3. Sue the copy company

  4. Legitimization, like Oskar did

  5. Something else, namely ...

Results are only viewable after voting.
  1. Oskar_van_Deventer
    Oskar_van_Deventer Well-Known Member
    Hi Shapeways fans,

    This forum post is about a 3D-printed puzzle of mine that got knocked off in China. Whereas illegal copying is rather common in China, unfortunately, this may be the first recorded case with evidence that a Chinese copycat bought a Shapeways 3D-print as basis for an illegally mass-produced copy.

    I prototyped my Geared 5x5x5 puzzle end 2010, I offered it for sale at my Shapeways Shop and I presented it at my YouTube channel. Summer 2015, a Chinese friend of mine discovered that the puzzle was mass-produced in China. I asked for help at the Twisty Puzzles Forum. With help from several Chinese friends and a bit of forensic investigation, we discovered the following.
    1) The puzzle was produced without my permission as "5x5x5 Gear Cube" by the brand "Illusion Cube" (????).
    2) The puzzle was copied from a 3D print that was purchased from Shapeways via a Chinese American in LA mid 2012.
    3) Most likely, the model was copied by 3D scanning.
    4) A person called Duwei Xian (???) filed a Chinese patent on the puzzle end 2012.
    You can read the full story and inspect the evidence here.

    After a failed negotiation with Illusion Cube, I decided to go for legitimization. Legitimization is the awkward practice where a distributor buys a batch of samples, includes the name of the inventor and pays the inventor royalties. I made a legitimization deal with the company CubeTwist. So now scrupulous puzzle collectors can buy a legitimate sample of the puzzle.

    Read the full story here.
    Watch the YouTube video and compare the original with the mass-produced version.
    Buy the legitimized version of the puzzle at HKnowStore (search for "Oskar Gear 5x5x5 Cube").
    Read the discussion about this case at the Twisty Puzzles Forum.
    Check out the photos below and see how pieces from the original 3D-print and mass-produced puzzle are interchangeable: black = 3D-printed original; white = mass-produced version. The "Oskar" sticker indicates that this is a legitimized version.


    Last edited: Oct 24, 2015
  2. blueant
    blueant Active Member
    Sorry to hear that.
    I admire people that come up with gadgets.
    China is always copying illegal software, movies, etc.
    Even Microsoft has little recourse.
    No surprise here.

    I think you are doing the right thing.
    Your name and reputation will be associated with quality.
    Quality is something China will never reproduce, which is why musical instruments, like Fender guitars retain
    their buyers despite 'knock offs'. People want the quality, sound of a real hand manufactured Fender guitar.

    Last edited: Nov 10, 2015
  3. mkroeker
    mkroeker Well-Known Member
    Stereotypes are useless. The above must have been what the British manufacturers said when the early US started copying their looms and locomobiles, and again as cheap and inferior German tools and cutlery flooded their market. This game will continue until the major Chinese manufacturing companies get fed up with their domestic copycats, and by then everybody will already be bickering about the Mongolians, the Nigerians or whoever else rises next.
  4. blueant
    blueant Active Member
    That was not a racist statement I made. Nor was it implied.
    I backed up my opinion with what I read elsewhere.
    Sorry I tried to defend you. Won't happen again.
  5. ProjectMobius
    ProjectMobius Well-Known Member
    I wouldn't say this either "Quality is something China will never reproduce," though I don't think its racist (I'm Chinese btw). I'm pretty sure my iPhone 4, yes 4 was made in China as many other electronics and its still going strong.

    Yes I agree China has a LOT of illegal knock offs and stuff but that does not mean all of them are like that.
  6. DBTops
    DBTops Well-Known Member
    I'm sorry to hear this happened to you. If you are successful in stopping them from copying you I would love to hear how. When it's laws being broken across the water I have no clue what to even start doing.
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2015
  7. blueant
    blueant Active Member
    My quality statement was Fender guitar related. Which is how they survive.
    I'd like to mute the post,
    sorry I ever responded.
  8. Vortical
    Vortical Well-Known Member
    I believe Mark Twain wrote "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery."

    I regret the loss of control over your invention. Theft is traumatizing. And it may seem insult upon injury that you need now do business with the thief.

    Once I sought to patent and license an invention, hoping to see it distributed and sold in retail outlets. I found that path strewn with knaves and pitfalls, everything but money and recognition. I'm amazed and a bit awed that you actually get royalty checks.

    Perhaps you will find some consolation by seeing you plight in that light.

    BTW, excellent product! Great concept, great execution!
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2015
  9. Nadia_Khuzina
    Nadia_Khuzina Member
    I deal with this quite often with my 2D art. I estimate over $200,000 in pirate sales in the last two years, most of it being very hard to track because it gets sold in shops, not on the internet. It's very distressing to me, because as a business, I lost money in these two years. So theft has actually put me out of business, and I won't be creating for the consumer market anymore.

    What usually happens is that the supplier you deal with in China is either a middleman, or a factory that produces your samples to a terrible quality, so you go somewhere else, but they have your art. There are a lot of people in the pipeline that can get access to your work, and there is nothing you can do unless it sold from within a Western country.

    Most of the product that gets sold on the internet is on spammy popup sites that add your art programmatically to various things, and automatically categorizes it in a product database that you can easily port to new site. Now since almost all of these sites originate in places like Indonesia, China, and India, there is little you can do to them but report the violation to paypal. It takes a lot of time even if you are using templates to send the DMCA claims. Paypal is actually very good about locking the accounts, but they are absolutely inundated, so a lot of times I have to send the same claim multiple times.

    If the counterfeit product makes it to the US and someone is dumb enough to sell it, then you can go straight to the FBI, and since it is likely they are selling other counterfeit products, they will get swept up eventually. Usually though the accounts in the US are fronts for Chinese associates abroad, so you are dealing with professional criminals. They are hard to get at, but not all of them are smart.

    The next recourse is suing the US based scammers, but there are not so many making it worth your while to sue. If the copyright it registered, then you can get a maximum judgement in small claims court, but it's nearly impossible to enforce. If these people had money, they wouldn't be stealing your design on a $15 phone case. If your copyright is not registered, you can register it, but you are only getting actual damages, unless you can angle for punitive damages on the counterfeiting angle. I haven't found a target worth doing this to yet unfortunately, but it's going to need to be open and shut for a lawyer to take it on contingency, and most corporations will settle with you quickly if they in fact screwed up honestly.

    Anyway, that's my experience. It's very sad, and I lose my mind seeing all the progressive teenagers trolling about the excessive copyright protections, and justifying how pirating doesn't matter because they wouldn't have bought it anyway. That's simply not true. People are buying my designs daily, and since I don't get any of the money, I have stopped creating.

    The real solution? I don't want to turn this into a political discussion, but as a feminist leaning woman, I am voting for Trump. I would vote twice for him as well if it wasn't a felony. The CBP is so understaffed, they don't even enforce tariffs on your average <$1000 package the vast majority of the time because the burden is too costly. How do you even expect them to enforce intellectual property rights without the bust be well north of seven figures? International trade is important, but the system really undermines the creative process of American companies seeking to innovate. Trump gets it right economically. If he does a tenth of what he says he will, it's going to be huuuuge for America.
    Last edited: Nov 22, 2015
  10. stannum
    stannum Well-Known Member
    Other countries have no problems applying tariffs and taxes. They just bill you pretty well for the service, even if there is no tariff to pay (and of course, they pocket the taxes, including the full shipping like if it was performed all inside the country). This makes people very careful about from where to buy. Basically, they think twice about buying from abroad.
  11. Nadia_Khuzina
    Nadia_Khuzina Member
    In Russia it is now 1500 Euros per month tariff free to import for personal use, but it is so likely to be stolen there by the post. Everyone has had stuff they ordered on the internet stolen one way or the other. In Lithuania, there is the same theft problem, but only from customs. If they don't want it for themselves, ordering something well under the 20lt threshold will earn an arbitrary customs bill every single time, even if the amount is clearly honest, and an invoice included from Amazon.

    In the US, the USPS is incredible. The best post in the world. People say nice things about German post, and Japanese post, but it is not factual, the US is the best. I have never had a single package go missing, and I have shipped and received thousands, and thousands of them. The only time anything has got lost is when shipping abroad, and I am certain every loss was never due to the USPS.

    So it's quite a conundrum you bring up. The US postal and logistics services are the best by a wide margin, and they are honest, but their volume is so high that they can only prioritize enforcement. It's not like in Eastern European countries where the pay is so low that they have to graft for every kopek.

    I think another big issue is the stupid treaties (which technically supersede the US Constitution as the supreme law of the land in many instances) America signs which end up being unilateral. A good example of this is the JCPOA. An unenforceable contract with a sworn enemy. The same applies to the Berne and WIPO treaties. In Russia we (I guess they since I'm American now), have their own facebook (VKontakte) which is much better than facebook, because people can upload music, movies, and even gamble for money without too much interference from the government which heavily monitors the platform.

    What good is a law if there is no penalty for breaking it? The piracy on VKontakte is illegal, but things only get taken down with heavy pressure from the highest level, and only to placate someone else high ranking abroad. It's farcical. Why would the US ever tolerate this? There should be heavy tariffs on any country that doesn't respect our rule of law.
  12. stannum
    stannum Well-Known Member
    It was not about theft, but about the post service inspecting some/many/every packet for tariffs (if aplicable) and taxes ("always", VAT, GST, etc), billing you that and some more. And that happens in "old" EU countries, Switzerland or Canada. Part is the law, part is profit for the carrier, you pay both if you want the box. But it sure would make Americans whine if USPS starts doing that in incoming products, specially without any subsidies but charging the full cost or more (as they seem to do when sending abroad, and that has some business thinking twice about targeting clients outside USA... last years prices have gone up by a lot, and for example crowdfunding projects got hit so bad now they charge shipping later or just don't ship outside USA).

    Edit: people already whine when they get charged state tax by SW.
    Last edited: Nov 23, 2015
  13. I think there is fairness and a moral viewpoint one can take on this. And rightly so in my view. However, I think that has to be separated from the practical business aspect. It is the way it is.

    It is a competition and during my work having small business, profit (which is required to continue to exist) is not affected by "should's". So I would say one has to create and market based on the way it is. It is an added requirement for creator to make the item profitable in the market that exits being it fair, right, just or not.

    I suspect one market that is hard for people to copy (at least less) is the custom product market. How to make something that generates profit might be considered part of the creativity needed.
  14. drloris
    drloris Well-Known Member
    You have personal experience of the Japanese and German postal service I assume. I don't, and I have nothing against USPS, but that seems like a rash claim without statistics to back it up.

    You mean the Berne convention on copyright - the international agreement governing copyright, and the the World Intellectual Property Organization copyright treaty? Are they really unenforceable contracts with sworn enemies? Yikes.

    I am interested in the tone of your post, because my impression (from outside America) is that the rest of the world considers the USA to negotiate from a position of strength, and generally to weight things in its own favour.
  15. Nadia_Khuzina
    Nadia_Khuzina Member
    It is empirical from shipping so many items both ways. I would rate the Chinese/HK post #2. German Post invented DHL, which is unscrupulous, and causes a lot of headaches, even if they offer good value. The day to day German post is ok, better than average in Europe, but stuff has gone missing for me there.

    Berne and WIPO are fine treaties, but their usefulness is limited to signatories actually caring about them. A lot of the countries don't hold up their end of the bargain. Russia, Romania, and China are signatories of these treaties. Is that not a huge joke? As for enemies, Iran is definitely an enemy. Diplomacy is fine, but the last nuclear deal was a sad admission the US is powerless to take positive action in a very dangerous situation.

    The US has done a very poor job since I've been here with foreign policy. A lot of people blame just the president or a political party, but it's the entire culture of corruption in congress that is to blame. There are so many scandals, it's not even worth discussing.

    When it comes to negotiating new treaties like TTIP and TPP are good ideas in theory (despite what reddit would have you believe), but it will just be more laws the US cannot enforce. The culture in the US is to make a law for every specific circumstance. That's why so many become lawyers here. How to protect American and Western innovation?

    Threads like this make me angry. A very talented innovator gets ripped off, and there is no legal process that can help him. It is sad, and the only real solution is to get big enough to wage war individually. The odds of getting to this escape velocity as a business, where you can have foreign police raid the bad guys for you, is very slim.

  16. mkroeker
    mkroeker Well-Known Member
    Does this forum really need a geopolitical rant thread ?
  17. Nadia_Khuzina
    Nadia_Khuzina Member
    So what do suggest is the cause of Dhr van Deventer being ripped off? It is allowed to happen solely because of inefficient politics, and the uneducated forming opinions on the complexities intellectual property that they take to the ballot box.

    It is shocking the justifications since the boom of the internet that people make for stealing intellectual property, and the tolerance that exists for allowing it to continue. :-(

  18. mkroeker
    mkroeker Well-Known Member
    Human nature ? (In the extreme form expressed by a fraction probably below one percent in each and every population). Note that he detailed the non-violent solution he arrived at with the help of local friends from the "offending" country and has not taken part in the ensuing discussion.
  19. Oskar_van_Deventer
    Oskar_van_Deventer Well-Known Member
    Wow, that is extreme ... How were the actual thefts being carried out? Reverse engineering from pictures or videos? Cast off? Other?

    The reason that I am asking, is that I am wondering how often 3D-printed items are knocked off, whether my personal case is a first,or just part of a bigger trend.

  20. Nadia_Khuzina
    Nadia_Khuzina Member
    I am a primarily a 2D artist, it is theft of my art that you can slap on all sorts of products. The saddest thing is that I would gladly license my work to these people for distribution. I have a better supplier network, better product, and can port designs perfectly for new models. It's just that nobody who does this sort of thing considers this, they just make a few grand on counterfeit merchandise before they are banned then disappear until they can do it again. The most infuriating thing is that I undercut the counterfeiters by a wide margin. People are paying four times as much a lot of times for worse product that is counterfeit.

    I do understand the route you took completely. A person who can mass produce your product and knows how to do that is valuable. I spent months, and months just finding good suppliers in China and Mexico for the products I manufacture. I have a few partners who distribute, but these were the ones who asked me, and they have been lovely to work with. I suppose if there were a legitimate supplier scamming me that I would do the same thing as you.

    As for 3D, I think the piracy debate has only started. As scanners improve, and the injection molding process becomes vastly cheaper, you are going to see widespread counterfeiting that the lawmakers still won't comprehend in 25 years.