Kickstarter incurs the wrath of Arduino creator

[Massimo], one of the creators of the Arduino, is a little perturbed over what passes for the truth over on Kickstarter.

While [Massimo] does recognize that Kickstarter can be a force of good launching garage-designed projects into the hands of willing consumers, he noticed something was a little fishy with the recent smARtDUINO kickstarter (notice the capital letters, by the way). Right near the top of the smARtDUINO’s kickstarter page is the phrase, “For years we manufactured the ARDUINO in Italy. Now we created a new Open System: modular, scalable, the world’s cheapest and smallest!”

Being at the top of the Arduino organization, you’d think [Massimo] would have heard of these former Arduino manufacturers. The name didn’t ring a bell to him, so he called up the factory. No one at the factory had heard of them, and after a long search it was finally revealed the head of the smARtDUINO project hired two factory workers who worked for a supplier the official Arduino manufacturer uses.

[Massimo] makes the comparison of, “if he hires two factory workers from Ford he can claim he used to manufacture Ford cars.” We’re thinking that’s a little generous. It’s more like hiring two people who used to restock the vending machines in a Foxconn plant and claiming you used to build Apple computers.

With a simple trademark infringement on his hands, [Massimo] contacted Kickstarter to see what could be done. Kickstarter replied:

Thanks for writing in and bringing this to our attention. This is a matter that must be taken up directly with the project creator. You can contact them by clicking “Contact me” on the project page.

For [Massimo], and us, that’s just not a sufficient answer. We’re thinking Kickstarter has an obligation to vet their projects and make sure the creators of these projects are who they say they are.

But enough about what we think. What do you, the Hackaday reader, think about this situation?

183 thoughts on “Kickstarter incurs the wrath of Arduino creator

  1. The smARtDUINO issue seems pretty cut-and dry. The only way Open Source Hardware can work is if you are able to build a reputation for your accomplishments, and smARtDUINO guys are clearly creating a brand confusion, not only with their name, but also by claiming they’re the original Arduino makers.

    As for how KickStarter should be involved in this… if this was a question of copyright rather than trademark, you could send a DMCA takedown notice, and KickStarter would have to jump on it immediately. Unfortunately, there is no similar recourse for trademark infringements that I know off. In fact, the law pretty much forces trademark holder to enforce their trademark rights by suing infringers. And if they’re being too lax about protecting their trademark, they could actually lose the trademark.

    So unless Massimo can persuade the smARtDUINO team, he will probably be forced to sue them – otherwise he’s essentially giving up his rights to the Arduino trademark. I’m not sure whether he would be able to name KickStarter as a defendant as well at that point. Either way, I doubt KickStarter will do anything unless they formally get contacted by a lawyer.

    Of course, waiting until after the KickStarter campaign has closed was probably a really stupid move on Massimo’s part. If he had done this earlier, at least he might have been able to get KickStarter to lean on the smARtDUINO team a little.

  2. Am I the only one who is appalled by the extremely poor PCB layout? This project has autorouter written all over it. If those folks have had the slightest involvement with Arduino in the past, it’s probably the reason why they got fired :)

  3. Wow, what a mess! I was an early backer within a day or two of the Kickstarter’s start, but I pulled my donation after it hit its funding level. This seems like a legitimate company and I expect them to have a place in the open hardware movement, but I think there’s a major language barrier that is badly hurting the company!

    Dimitri is open and honest (as far as I can tell of course) but he’s rambling and his word choices leave his meaning far from clear in English. When I asked in the Kickstarter comments how he was related to Arduino, he quickly explained that they were formerly involved in manufacturing. I too find their wording to be quite misleading on that subject, and I wish Dimitri would acknowledge this. Since so many native English speakers find his wording and his advertisement using the Arduino trademark to be shady, he is fighting an unnecessary battle in an unforgiving online forum. I just find it pretty arrogant to claim that because he has technicalities to back up his statements, the common perception of misleading advertising among a large portion of the community he’s trying to sell to is irrelevant.

    This’ll make a great case study some day in how not to handle PR! At the very least, he should have found someone who is fully fluent in English-speaking culture to handle communications!

    I am very impressed with Mossimo’s statement that he does not intend to pursue legal action. I think he could win a significant trademark dispute under US law, but whatever his reason, I don’t see such a dispute helping anybody.

    At the same time, I have to come back to hoping the modular technology doesn’t die away. I’m working toward a number of projects that run off solar energy and batteries, and most Arduino modules waste a lot of power on inefficient components or components I don’t need. While it’s largely unavoidable, I’d like to do as little PCB design as possible, and being able to drop in different components for personal projects would (or will) be a great advantage in many situations.

    1. I should clarify why I pulled my funding — it was primarily because I don’t have a current need for this technology. I’m deep (for a noob) into a project and I don’t have money to spend checking out new boards.

      That said, I was also a bit uncomfortable with the owner’s living in China with a business in Italy and a property in the US he used to get the Kickstarter going. It was also clear this was going to be an issue with Arduino — whether public or privately, I didn’t see this as a particularly respectful way to jump into the open hardware community.

      Anyway, I do still hope to purchase from the company in the future if it remains viable (and especially if they back down on some misleading, if literally accurate, statements).

  4. Well, I have never personally used either kick starter or Arduino. I caught wind of this “project” sometime earlier, and now that this has come up I wish to point out some issues. I do believe that this project is infringing on Arduino’s copyright. Initially I was slightly confused on whether this was actually an arduino or not. Reviewing Arduinos polocies for open hardware/software, smARtDUINO does not appear to be in any violation with Arduino’s policies, thus I say this is a very sticky situation. As for picking up Arduino mfg. workers, who cares. I can train a 16 year old to manufacture electronics. I can train them to solder Arduinos I’m sure. Why the smARtDUINO group has decided to bring this detail out I’m not sure.They seem to be asking for confrontation. Their wording is weird, and I’m quite sure its not the language difference. In addition, the small SMD parts on the board are not square, giving me the impression that this was NOT a professional soldering job with PnP machines and reflow. That or they are just terrible at it. This is seen best in the “smARtHOST” LEDs, and the “smARtCore” caps & resistors.

    In addition I think that is one ugly shade of yellow.

    I believe it is not KS responsibility to kick this project. Its much to late for that. Instead this should be brought up with smARtDUINO, in respects to Italy’s laws about all of this. KS is designed that the user body can govern the submissions against projects like this.If a project looks sketchy, don’t fund it. If you happen to fund a fraud, I am afraid it is your fault. No one can take responsibility for the judgement you put out. (I know now I am going to get hate comments below me. Sorry) Kickstarter needs to make a statement when supporting that explicitly warns against scams. That is all I have to say about that.
    I think this project is either a scam, or a stupidly designed product. I hope that all the backers are not let down, but at the same time, I feel sorry for them that they bought such a locked down product that does not allow for the same abilities as a real Arduino.

    Above all, I think people should start using real MCUs. Like raw Atmel/Microchip/TI/ whatever other IC mfg. that makes MCUs. Unlike these arduino clones, these MCUs will always do what they say on the datasheet, due to liability of higher up companies that will sink these mfgs if they get a bad product consistently.

  5. Kickstarter can’t just wash their hands of problems like these. The claims are being made by Kickstarter on their own web site in partnership with a user. They are partners because they are being paid to post that particular kickstarter, sharing in the success of the venture. Because they are business partners, there is no safe harbor for them. They are just as liable for false claims and trademark infringement on their own site as the user that posted it is, because they are profiting from those claims.

  6. Wow, way to add some fuel to the fire Hack-a-Day. If you can’t stay at least somewhat impartial, just leave the topic alone, you have obviously taken a side and are trying to use your influence to torpedo this guy. Whatever the end result in this trademark dispute, this “article” does little but make the open hardware community look childish.
    I have no interest in either side of this dispute, I just wish this site could keep things a bit more professional.

  7. Change your project name or I’ll sue you and make you poor…

    Also, I like how kickstarter projects keep getting sleazier and sleazier, non-innovative people with no real knowledge or skills, pan handling

  8. Having spend more than an hour reading all of the Kickstarter page, most of the blog comments, most/all of the amartduino website:

    1. Dimitri is not a native English speaker, but one who is (; Rob Says:
    November 26th, 2012 at 17:07:50) “I then stepped in as a native English speaker and re-wrote his whole main page (not the updates)”
    Also, Kickstarter had him re-write portions of the page because it restricts the description text to a max number of chars. (same blog, find Dimitri’s posts)
    It is not clear to me if Rob helped before or after Dimitri re-wrote the page. I will assume Rob re-wrote the re-write.

    2. the re-write Dimitri did forced some text describing “For years we manufactured the ARDUINO in Italy.” to move to the FAQ, which is very clear they were a contract manufacturer. The invoices on the smartduino blog show this clearly.
    I took it as they were showing they had the *capability and expertise* to actually manufacture the boards. This is a very important point – I have worked for a contract manufacturer (although not directly as part of the division), and I am quite aware of the expertise it takes to get this right.

    3. I was not confused by the trademark differences in the name – it looks different enough for me. IANAL, just an embedded engineer. I find the CamElCaSe a pain, but that is just me.
    Dimitri has a very valid point about NetDuino and the other open-source projects that use the “duino” suffix.
    Suggestion: Arduino charge smartduino one euro (or whatever the minimum licensing fee is) for use of the “duino” suffix. Then, arduino charge anybody else wanting the suffix one euro. Legal issues resolved?

    4. The smartduino “secret sauce” is the bus structure. The concept is not new – this goes back decades to the dawn of digital electrons. I did a similar design about 2 years ago for the company I was working for. Examples: S100, PC104, PC104+, PCI, ISA, …

    4a. The bus connectors are not proprietary – I don’t have the part number, but octoparts will pull up all world-wide suppliers. I know Digikey and Mouser carry them – I have seen them in the catalog.

    4b. This is a really cool bus structure, both electrically and physically. Wow, what a lot of work! I am really impressed – and sad I just learned of it instead of when I had the $200 for the full support!

    4c. There are some comments about “well, they didn’t leave me anything to do”. Then don’t use this stuff.

    4d. There are also comments about not using it in a product. If I had to make 10 units, and used 5 of their boards, I would do it in a heartbeat. At a minimum, it would allow me to concentrate on the system, deliver it to the customer, then refine it with the customer.

    5. What drama! Blood shed! Lawyers! Flame Wars! Oh, my.
    From what I can see, just reading the various sites and posts, is Dimitri having some text that was ambiguous (but cleared up in the FAQ), Massimo being frustrated with Kickstarter, then getting bull-headed instead of pawning it off on his CEO.
    Dimitri tried several times to directly talk to Massimo, but Massimo got his CEO and lawyers involved. Dimitri at this stage becomes fairly frustrated, and I cannot really blame him.

    6. I am really sad about the vitriol of some of the posts. If you know one of these trolls, please dope-slap them for being retarded. My gosh.

    All in all, this has really gotten out of hand. I suggest the way to solve it is one of the two traditional Italian ways. Since dueling is right out, Dimitri and Massimo should get roaring drunk together, kiss and make up, and go back to doing what they both do well, which is doing Great Things!

  9. It seems to me that Arduino (TM) might have been able to resolve this amicably, but instead posted a snarky blog post (too late for backers to pull out). Now everyone’s on the defensive. A large number of people who backed this thing (including me) are going to be upset with one or both parties, and when we’re upset we hack less. Sad face.

  10. some of you legal wannabes & pitchfork-brandishing Arduweenies need to get a grip, and remember what open source means.

    I was aware of Arduino long before smARtDUINO launched their KickStarter (of which I’m an enthusiastic backer), and it was patently clear that, whilst smARtDUINO was previously involved to some degree with Arduino manufacturing (& Dimitri has now posted evidence of this), the two were distinctly separate entities, where smARtDUINO are making Arduino-compatible products in a different and easily scalable form-factor.

    this was obvious from their KS page right from the start, and to assert that there’s a high degree of confusion is mindlessly antagonistic crapola.

    is anyone suing Tinyduino? AVR-Duino? Craftduino? Freeduino? Roboduino? Volksduino? ZArduino? Zigduino? No.

    Arduino were aware of smARtduino right from the start, but waited until after the end of their hugely successful KS campaign to stir trouble. If it was their trademark they were really worried about, they would be obliged to act ASAP. they didn’t.

    Arduino’s motives appear to be more about “Shuzbut! They’ve made a great system that’s probably going to be popular, and we don’t get a cut of it.” Tough luck – Innovate or fade away.

  11. Seems like both parties could have handled this more professionally. I will say this however: this statement from the smartduino project is clearly false advertising “For years we manufactured the ARDUINO in Italy.” While technically it may be true given their explanation two of their employees using to work in a plant manufacturing Arduino’s, it’s clearly misleading and unethical to post a statement like that. Even more surprising, it’s still on their KickStarter page despite all the feedback. It’s too bad, the smartduino project actually looks pretty interesting but this statement overshadows all that and makes the project come across as lacking creditability/shady. Not sure why they wouldn’t just take the 10 seconds and edit that part out.

    1. no comments have been removed (except one amazingly racist and offensive one). Upon further review, it appears that one comment went to the trash due to enough reports too. It wasn’t criticizing those people you mentioned either. it was just rude and hateful.

  12. While Dimitri is right to claim that members of his team manufactured the Arduino for years, I still don’t think its grounds enough to deliberately mention it on his kickstarter. Surely some common sense would’ve told him that people would misread the statement to mean more than it actually does? That was just false advertising, even if it was technically true. The OSHW culture owes too much to the Arduino to take advantage of it like this.

  13. “Arduino” is a trademark of Arduino team and should not be used for unofficial variants”. IMO it’s a trade mark issue, not copywrite issue as one suggested. I’m not going to chase down trademark granting documents, but rely on the FAQ; …”Not okay:
    Arduino Xxxxxx
    Xxxxxx Arduino “… A trade mark violation, again I have more entertaining ways to kill time other than hunting down the actual trade marks. Documents that detail trade marks are interesting & as they say the devil is in the details. As I see it Kick Starter didn’t create, doesn’t manufacture or name the product. Arduino should have sent the complaint first to Albini’s company, with a FYI copy to Kick Starter. Where KS earns from these projects they at least should take the time to at least look at the trade mark documents that Arduino should have provided to make decision & pull the listing if their attorneys believe the complaint is valid. Given the eclectic nature of the submissions to KS it’s probably impossible the vet each & everyone in an economical manner, so I couldn’t expect them to do so

  14. Creative content hosting sites should not be forced to act like police. It leads to false claims and take downs, drives a wedge between a community and the site and takes away focus from the main events.

    If Massimo has a problem with the content, then go after the creators. Force them to alter or delete the content using the law. Don’t bypass this process and demand that the service that hosts it must make this call.

    This behaviour is breaking da intarwebs.

  15. @hackday, before you print and claim truths of anyone you better check your sources and play a neutral role, meaning if someone claims someone than at least make sure the other part can say their own version before is judged in a public area without any knowledge of what really happen… that is just bad misinformation and journalism… print both versions of Dimitri and Massimo and let the public judge!!
    and even then how can you real judge if one say he doesn’t know or work for the other…

    @all of you, there is so much talk about what, a name? the use of the name “..duino”, a claim that he produce some “arduino” for the owner!??! never heard you guys complaining about tinyduino, seediuno, and more 200 version of it. and am i going to be sue also because i didn’t use tm symbol cmon guys!? wakeup!!

    folks is all about open source and what the real or new product can do for us and the greater good….if the original arduino maker didn’t like it to be open source than should not open to the community, but lets be real and remember that arduino got to be something in the world of microcontrollers because of these greater open source community you and me, the final user that uses thousand variations of the product….and now is complaining?! let get real folks!
    and see for yourself the name difference “smARTDUINO” is not equal to “arduino” at all

    moreover you should talk about the product itself if is any good or just something not worthing buying or use it! again get the information right before judging so quick
    and let me tell you the excitement i can see for a long time by the introduction of a unifying microcontroller bus that can be use not just with arduino (atmel), but with so many other ICs and manufactures, some of those better than the ic Atmel used in arduino… and all using the same great concept of the arduino, simplicity of use, without soldering… this brings to me and all of you the opportunity to play with picaxe, arm, and atmel alltogether, ranging so many different applications again without soldering and simplicity…

    so if this is not a great news and i do not what it is!!

  16. I don’t think Kickstarter or similar ventures like IndieGoGo should have to be in the business of “vetting” their users’ projects on factual matters. They are the technical providers of a platform — they’re not, and shouldn’t have to become, experts on every topic that is discussed on their platform. If we did require them to do so, the rate of new Kickstarter projects would grind to a halt; and we would be asking the platform providers to expose themselves to the immense legal risk of ocassionally getting something wrong in the vetting process, and having their pants sued off.

  17. The experience I’ve had closest to this happened on Cafe Press. Person just copy/pasted my design(!) and put the design on their own products, to sell for profit on, you guessed it, Cafe Press.

    I wrote Cafe Press (because couldn’t figure how to contact actual thief at the time). They had thief’s site down -that day-!

    Now, Cafe Press is different than Kickstarter, because it actually produces product, instead of promoting and advertising “product”, but a certain amount of vetting should happen to keep with Kickstarter’s hopeful image of “don’t be Evil” (hopefully, Google didn’t trademark that ).

  18. I’m thinking about organizing a class action suit against kickstarter for this (since Dimitri stopped talking to everyone 6 months ago & nobody knows where he is. Also kickstarter charged us $170k for something they were warned was a fraud).

    If anyone is interested you can comment or send an email to

    I wonder if Arduino would be willing to testify that they warned kickstarter?

  19. dimitri went on to scam Indiegogo using the Arduino name too. We all watched it happen in slow motion as 7000 suckers handed over their money to his crew. Another $170k

    $350k in 9 months. Not a bad take. Great con. You can’t fight the charges on your credit card now. It’s been to long.

    I tried to warn Indiegogo after it closed but they gave me a form letter just like kickstarter.

  20. Well, a year later Massimo was probably right. Dimitri “SmartMaker” Albino hasn’t fulfilled Kickstarter orders, claims to have shipped all orders but won’t provide tracking numbers, offers the same kits as CURRENTLY AVAILABLE on the SmartMaker website that he has yet to ship to his Kickstarter backers.

    In short, Dimitri Albino has proved himself a liar and cheat numerous times over the last year. He likes to make threats on the Kickstarter updates but he’s too much of a pussy to follow through.

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