LAS VEGAS – Omix-ADA, the world’s largest independent manufacturer of Jeep parts and accessories, Wednesday served subpoenas on eight Chinese companies alleging multiple copyright and trademark violations of Omix-branded products.
Backed by those subpoenas, Federal Marshals raided two Chinese company booths in the Las Vegas Convention Center’s South Hall shortly after the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) opened its doors Wednesday morning, while six other companies were shut down at the nearby Automotive Aftermarket Products Expo (AAPEX).
“This is something we were aware of (before SEMA) and we talked with SEMA about how do we go through the steps because we don’t want to upset the industry at an event like this,” said Henk Van Dongen, Omix-ADA’s Director of Marketing. “So they recommended a few local attorneys and we got all of our paperwork in place by Monday night, then Tuesday we went to the judge.”
”Normally they have a hearing and those companies would be served and then have to show up for another hearing – and if they don’t show up then we win, but the judge took one look at the paperwork and said there is no denying this.”
The US Marshals struck quickly, stopping the eight companies from interacting with show-goers and boxing up everything in each respective booth. This included product, as well as all electronic devices and paperwork.
Van Dongen said the Chinese companies' employees reaction as the Marshals arrived was mostly surprise, while others tried to box up products and hide them.
Another Omix employee said the reaction was 'utter fear' when they realized why the Marshals had arrived.
"All of a sudden none of them knew how to work a phone or laptop, or they outright denied everything, causing the Marshals to just take everything," the employee said.
”Everything gets copied and looked at, and then the companies get them back and we can pursue additional legal action if we want to,” Van Dongen said. “SEMA has always said that if something like this happens, then the companies found to be on the wrong side – so to speak – are no longer allowed to come back to the SEMA show.”
”This is obviously about our product line and intellectual property because we need to protect our customers and retailers. But it’s not just about Omix and Rugged Ridge, it’s something that is industry-wide and something that has been building up and becoming more and more rampant over the past two to three years.”
Wednesday’s raid recovered numerous products Omix-ADA alleged to be counterfeit, such as bumpers and its popular Spartan Grille. The company also said it found counterfeit products ‘knocked off’ from other respected vendors, but it was unable to secure anything other than what was on the respective subpoenas.
Many in the aftermarket have complained for years that all kinds of ‘knock-off’ companies – not all Chinese – have allegedly been stealing intellectual property and building counterfeit products to sell on marketplaces such as Amazon or Ebay. These fake products not only are inferior, but can be outright dangerous in a market such as Jeep.
Van Dongen said Omix-ADA was willing to work with other companies in the Jeep aftermarket – even ones normally considered competitors – to eradicate these types of counterfeiters.
”The way the market is these days – a company can be anywhere in the world and produce counterfeit products that are hard to catch in customs,” Van Dongen said. “These individual pieces, there is no way to intercept them and it’s a major problem, so that’s what really started this.”
“SEMA is interested in this as well, because let’s be honest, they do not benefit - nobody in the industry benefits - from this and if that means working with people who are normally competitors to combine resources to go after these companies, then that’s the road we need to go.”
”Look, if someone else wants to go out and make grab handles, then make grab handles, but when companies spend all kinds of engineering time, and time to create patents and design patents, well then absolutely stay away from that.”
“We all spend a lot of time and effort into building the companies we have, and competition is fair and if it’s done fairly then let the best company win. But if people are doing it the illegal way, then it’s like, eh, no.”
Van Dongen said Omix-ADA plans to take legal action as far as they can against these eight companies.
“We’ll have to see how far we can legally pursue the companies that we dealt with today and we’re going to be vigilant going forward,” he said. “It’s slow going, we’re just getting started with this but you can see we are focused on it.”
”It’s a little like playing whack a mole, and hopefully if we whack them one time too many, then they won’t be coming back.”.