Multimeters Without A Country: Fluke’s Broad Trademark Bans Yellow Multimeter Imports

fluke-killing-sparkfun-for-being-yellow

Check out this SparkFun Digital Multimeter. Does it make your blood boil to see them ripping off Fluke by using the color yellow? From SparkFun’s side of the story that’s exactly what’s happened here. They have a shipment of 2000 of these things stuck in customs. The trademark being infringed upon can be found in their article. Fluke owns the trademark on multimeters with a dark face and yellow border. Great. This seems like a wonderful idea, right up there with Apple owning tablets that are shaped like a piece of paper.

Okay, so if you’re not crying big fat tears for Fluke being taken advantage of in this way let’s talk about more immediate issues than fixing trademark, patent, copyright, and all of the other screw-the-little-guy type of laws (not that SparkFun is necessarily the little guy but you know what we mean). The DMMs sitting in a warehouse are costing SparkFun $150 per day. We believe they have no option of choosing a warehouse with a lower cost as we must be talking a pallet or two, right? The only two options they do have are shipping them back to China where they were manufactured, or having them destroyed. The former will cost more in re-import tariffs than the cost of the product, and the latter comes with a $150/hour disposal fee and no metric on which to judge how long it would actually take. We hate seeing this kind of waste, but sure enough 2000 DMMs are headed for the shredder in a couple of days.

We know you already have your flaming sword in hand, but simmer down for just a second. Fluke makes great products, ask anyone. And companies the world over defend their trademarks. Hopefully there will soon be a positive response from Fluke on this one. If you would like to politely encourage them to do the right thing we found Fluke’s Facebook page URL in the SparkFun comments thread. Both are worth browsing.

[Thanks Chris via Reddit]

Comments

  1. Gyorgy Szekely says:

    I have a few Maxwell DMM’s and all have dark face and yellow rubber border… what’s the big deal?

  2. Nimajamin says:

    Could SparkFun circumnavigate the block by disassembling the meters and sell them as a kit? – Or have the cases destroyed & some new shells molded.. to reduce the destructive waste? Or is there another territory they could be shipped to that isn’t F(l)uked in such a manor?

  3. Galane says:

    Only an illiterate person with cataracts, nearsightedness and astigmatism could mistake the cheap import for a Fluke 17B.

    What next? Fluke suing the members of the Christian Rock band “Stryper” over their choice of colors? Or perhaps throwing lawyers at PNY for making a USB stick with a yellow and black housing?

    This is as silly as when the World Wildlife Fund sued the World Wrestling Federation over the use of the letters “WWF” – and won. (But AFAIK they’ve not sued any other company or organization with the initials WWF!) They claimed they were “forced” to always have to use their panda bear logo and spell out their full name to “avoid confusion”. The phrase “World Wildlife Fund” and their panda bear logo are trademarks. Unlike copyrights which can be renewed even without publishing or otherwise reproducing the copyrighted item, trademarks MUST be used periodically.

    That’s why Marvel and DC squeeze out one-shot issues every so often for moldy oldie characters like Plastic Man. It’s solely to prevent laps of the trademarks due to non-use.

    That brings up another trademark case which should have been booted (with actual boots applied to arses) right out of court. Marvel and DC obtained a shared trademark on the word “superhero” as applied to fictional, abnormal characters used in comic books, movies and other media, plus cosmetics and a few other WTF? uses. That was in spite of DECADES of the use of the word by all publishers in the entire comic book industry. Their claim was that the vast majority of people think only of Marvel and/or DC comics characters when they read or hear the word superhero.

    Thus in Disney/Pixar’s “The Incredibles” the superheroes are called “supers”. Either Disney wouldn’t pay the Marvel and DC extortion or the comic companies wouldn’t allow Disney to use superhero for any amount of money.

  4. Eirinn says:

    I will now trademark all the letters used in this post and i will sue the shit out of anyone stupid enough to use them. Also don’t try and cheat by changing the combinations, i will be trademarking all the words too1234567890?!,.;-_ good luck suckers.

    /s

  5. Andrew says:

    Wow, Sparkfun sells meters now? Haven’t been on their website for a while, I wonder what else they have that’s new.

    In unrelated news, exactly how much PR can you buy for, say, $30000…?

  6. Tron9000 says:

    F**k you fluke – hello Agilent!

  7. doragasu says:

    This is just stupid. Using the same logic behind giving Sparkfun the trademark for multimeters with yellow borders, Ferrary could trademark red colour and no other car manufacturer could make red cars.

    Plain stupid.

    BTW, I have a non Fluke DMM with yellow borders. I bought it around 1993 (long before the year 2000, when Fluke filed the trademark). This trademark should have never been granted because there were tons of multimeters that looked like that prior to it. This is one of the of those trademarks that are not requested to protect the image of the company, but to easily crush competitors. Just like all the apple shit about rounded corners and the like. Apple might need to use this dirty tricks, but I’m surprised Fluke is also using them, I think they do not need it.

  8. hboy007 says:

    I want my multimeter as ugly as it could be. Pink, fluorescent green with brown speckles and black stripes all over it. Make it look like a brick no one would even bother poking a stick at. The last shiny yellow-gray Fluke that I used got stolen.

  9. nick says:

    What is this particular yellow scheme is not CAT yellow but orange yellow instead? That wouldnt infringe the trademark, would it?

  10. Patr says:

    Also Adafruit is in trouble: http://www.adafruit.com/products/71

    Those are designed to make it look like a Fluke multimeter. I can understand that Fluke is trying to stop them. However, Fluke could help Sparkfun out here and make a deal that is good for both.

  11. Edward says:

    Like McDonald’s Golden Arches.

  12. pusalieth says:

    Well I thought I give my two cents, with I believe to be the pertinent information here.

    First the argument that you must be trained, experienced, or knowledgeable in the subject or therein is absurd. When I first started learning about brands and DMM(Digital Multimeters), I bought the cheapest not for any reason other than I didn’t know what I was doing, nor had the money. Later in life as I grew more knowledgeable I wanted a DMM that had better accuracy and precision, which is what made me get 82 range from Radioshack for $85. (I also want to point out, if your not knowledgeable enough to know who fluke instruments are, and where to find them, and how much they cost, how do you know that they are the best, and could get deceived, and if you buy this model first and think later, “Wait I bought one that looked similar before, and it had yellow colors it must be just as bad”, either your to stupid to live, or you just made the best argument I’ve heard for abortion, because colors have nothing, I repeat, nothing to do with operation of this unit, nor any other.) Now I was aware the entire time that Fluke existed, and was considered the best, and when I went to any store, I didn’t look at the “brand names”, I looked at the product, and then the manufacturer. Any persons that performs this operation in reverse order is either brainwashed into automatic consumerism, mentally retarded or possibly insane. Even Einstein said the definition of insanity is performing the same function over and over again expecting different results each time. And I know for a fact my history and other people, know name brands and generic of the same specifications are of comparable quality and efficacy. A $8 1.4a spec HDMI cable is identically __performing__ and a $200 HDMI Monster cable, and the same goes with all products. To the idiots that think the government can do no wrong, realize “people” run the government, not a GOD, so stop worshiping or think its as perfect as one. 90% of the certified people or public in areas are just a stupid as the average person, and make just as many mistakes, and sometimes more because they are usually 10x as arrogant or narcissistic.

    Point two, if your about to spend $300+ on a fluke instrument, -note I changed the terminology there because thats what fluke and no one else calls them- you either need that exact product and no other cheaper manufacturer produces the product, or are stupidly wealthy, either way if you as an individual personally decide with no coercion to give your money which is a place holder of your work on earth, and a earthly quantification of your production worth, if you don’t want to research it, that’s your choice, and if you screw up, tough, and expecting others to relieve you of that responsibility but force others to perform it for you, and punish them when they don’t, ie, this article, either please disappear/don’t exist/etc, I don’t care how, or be put in jail, because your the one here thats committing the real crime. You make the argument, that it does good, yet have no proof in historical real facts to prove it, when was the last time colors, shape, or anything retarded made someone think that said product was a counterfeit or clone, when ever has anyone in the United States went to buy a brand name, and bought something else because it looked exactly like it, and if they did couln’t return it for what they wanted. If it was either is would say fluke, and be identical to a fluke instrument and be sold as a fluke instrument. It was being sold as a Sparkfun DMM for $30, that is 100% legitimate, nothing more, nothing less.

    • MrPedanic says:

      “90% of the certified people or public in areas are just a stupid as the average person, and make just as many mistakes, and sometimes more because they are usually 10x as arrogant or narcissistic.”

      Approx 50% will be less stupid and approx 50% will be more stupid than the average person… and approximately 1% may not be able to distinguish between a yellow multimeter and a blue one. Are they allowed to buy these meters on the grounds that they could not possibly by influenced by Fluke based advertising bias?

  13. Wow if Fluke Think people use their meters because of a Colour, *runs away throws Fluke meters in bin buys red meters!, How sad are these budget meters people will use as Voltage testers why should fluke at all care, Just for this FLUKE I refuse to own or use your products Go join apple create an APP that requires you own an iPhone to use the meter..

  14. Phil says:

    Personally, I would import the yellow section separate from the rest and reassemble over here.

  15. planofuji says:

    Fluke is doing the RIGHT thing. Sparkfun is whining because someone actually caught them of their willingness to use slave labor to violate US property rights… Maybe they will learn their lesson!

    • Ervin Kosch says:

      Yes and no on your comment. Yes Fluke is doing the right thing because patents are a use it or lose it situation. And no, that could have just as easily been an American company making yellow DMM. It just would have been in the form of a more costly lawsuit instead of dealing with Homeland Security.

  16. DainBramage1991 says:

    When did Fluke become just yellow/black? I’ve seen Flukes in beige, white, white/blue, all gray, gray/white, red/gray, black, blue, and all yellow. I’ve seen them in varying shades of the same colors. In fact, my 116 and my 322, which were bought AS A SET, are colored with different shades.

    If they can’t even produce their own products with uniform color shades, what business do they have defending a patent on color?.

    Come on, Fluke. Do the right thing here.

  17. XOIIO says:

    It does look an awful lot like a fluke knockoff, I agree fluke may be taking it a bit too seriously but it does make sense.

    I don’t feel bad for sparkfun though, considering the amount they overcharge for stuff when you can get it much cheaper elsewhere.

  18. Jon says:

    I know nothing about trademarks but, based on this: http://tsdr.uspto.gov/#caseNumber=75934005&caseType=SERIAL_NO&searchType=statusSearch
    it looked like it expired in 2013 right?

  19. Yellow and black.. mother nature has the patent (as always).. Bees, wasps… Warning colours.

  20. Ervin Kosch says:

    Free the DMM! Actually is there a SparkFun campiagn that if they have to destroy the DMM’s you can pre-order a new one plus $5 to help them make-up the lose?

  21. isaturnine says:

    I would say try to get them shredded no finer than half an inch and make sure the batteries don’t get shredded in, then sell it by the pound as a kit and open a contest of who can best puzzle it together again. The display, of course, will need replacement, and solder and cyano/epoxy glue will be needed a lot, and who does not understand why the first steps will need nitrile gloves should maybe not attempt it :) – everything else would probably yield a working meter per pound or two of pieces. Certainly a REAL hardware hacking challenge.

  22. Oz says:

    If this is indeed an infringement, I find it odd that Fluke never contacted Sparkfun about the infringement. Isn’t all part of basic due diligence? It osuld be interesting to see if Fluke has contacted anyone about this, or if they just rely on customs to do their job.

  23. Sam says:

    The whole idea is to make it unbearably risky for any new companies to enter the market, so as to lock business into the etsablished special interests/big companies. The new “patent reform” bill does that too. Anybody who tries to take out a patent better have millions to handle the potential lawsuits.

  24. Rob says:

    I’m with Fluke on this one. Can’t afford them, don’t need the degree of precision which they offer, likely never will… but they have a brand and image to defend, and *THIS IS HOW IT WORKS HERE IN ‘MURCA*. If you don’t like it, lobby to change the system… don’t hate the playas (so to speak).

    Actually, I’m surprised as crap that Sparkfun thought that ordering these from the offshore vendor in what are essentially Fluke colors was a good idea. Don’t they have a General Counsel? Sparkfun should know better, and if they want to be grown-up about the situation, they’ll readily admit that they now DO know better, and they’ll move forward with great products and offerings that don’t infringe on trademarks, brands, likenesses, etc… This is their chance to take the high road and do the right thing.

    We shall see what happens.

  25. alpharesearch says:

    I think there should be at least the option to rework it in the USA… my suggestion to spray paint a random red pattern on the yellow plastic…

  26. 1.21Gigawatts says:

    Isn’t that yellow used by McDonald’s in their golden arches? Maybe Ronald should sue both of ‘em. ;-)

  27. 1.21Gigawatts says:

    It was just a “fluke” they were using the same yellow…

  28. 1.21Gigawatts says:

    Isn’t that same yellow used to color Donald Duck? Just wait for the Disney lawyers… ;-)

  29. Nigel says:

    How can’t you copyright a colour???? I will be spraying all my test kit cases yellow from now on, in protest. No not really, it is plain stupid to say you have a copyright to a colour.

  30. Andrew says:

    Hmm, my flippant comment was removed.

    So, how much PR *can* you buy for $30,000? I guess it’s enough money to stifle any sort of discussion.

  31. Looks like enforcing patent and trademark hurt business right?

    SF product is not a fluke clone, they don’t look alike at all and they are thousand of dark and yellow DMM on the market. That is what DMM looks like. I would have understand if the fluke name was on the product or if the package was the same. But here it is not the case. Trademark too shady they shouldn’t have been able to register that.

  32. PinheadBE says:

    Am I the only one to see that the patent granted in 2003 for a period of 10 years is … outdated ???

  33. djneo says:

    i bought excatly the same DMM a few years ago. locally here in the netherlands. but no sparkfun logo

  34. Robert Eastwood says:

    I understand the idea of design patterns, so that consumers can tell who makes a product, it is a point of transparency to have some distinguishing label on a product to make sure the consumer knows the brand they are buying. Although the attempt to patent shapes and colors is outside of the spirit of the law. Unless it is to preserve artistic expression in a piece of work.

    The issues Fluke is worried about would not occur if the product has its own company name on the front of the product.

    Or they could print on the multimeter.

    “This is not a Fluke.”

    And that would remove the possibility it is meant to confuse by lack of transparency.

  35. Since Fluke has banned yellow meters with dark faces, I am banning Fluke from all purchases for the rest of my life.

  36. Carl says:

    Keep your mitts off #FFCC00 Fluke!

  37. Robert Eastwood says:

    I again repeat the obvious conclusion.

    Since I know Pat, and I know Ent’s Then I can show that all Patents are from original ideas I knew of first, and that Patents themselves are combinations of ideas that are from my original ideas. And could be explained as obvious, so not patentable.

    Note, other postings showing constructive knowledge of both Lord of The Rings, and Wizard of Oz support this.

    Making me the rightful holder of all Patents, based on being the rightful holder of Pat and Ents. And since all Patents are built from those parts without me being sent a fee, legal proceedings against all claims to patents are being enacted..

    Robert Eastwood

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