Sparkfun, a hobbyist electronics retailer, recently received a letter from U.S. Customs saying a shipment of 2,000 multimeters was being barred from entry into the country.
The reason? Trademark law. A company named Fluke holds a trademark on multimeters that have a ‘contrasting yellow border.’ Sparkfun’s multimeters are a yellowish orange, but it was enough for Customs to stop the shipment. Returning the shipment is not an option because of import taxes in China, so the multimeters must now be destroyed.
At $15 per item, it’ll cost Sparkfun $30,000, plus the $150/hr fee for destroying them. Sparkfun had no idea about the trademark, and doesn’t mind changing the color, but they say restrictions like these are a flaw in the trademark system. “Small business does not have the resources to stay abreast of all trademarks for all the products they don’t carry. If you’re going to put the onus on the little guy to avoid infringing IP then you shouldn’t need an army of consultants or attorneys to find this information.”