Tindie Seller Reviews A Knock-Off Of His Own Product

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, online creators are being sincerely flattered at an alarming rate these days. We Hackaday scribes see it all the time, as straight copy-pastes of our articles turn up on other websites under different bylines. It’s annoying, but given prevailing attitudes toward intellectual property rights, there’s very little point in getting upset about it anymore. But what if it’s hardware that’s being infringed upon?

Hacker and Tindie store proprietor [Brian Lough] recently ran into this problem with one of his products, but rather than get upset, he did a remarkably fair and thoughtful review of the knock-off. The board in question, a D1 Mini Matrix Shield, makes it a snap to use LED matrix panels in projects like his Tetris-themed YouTube sub counter. The knock-off came via Ali Express, with the most “flattering” aspect being the copy and the images on the Ali Express listing, some of which are pulled straight from [Brian]’s Tindie store. While the board’s layout is different, it’s pretty clear that it was strongly inspired by the original. And the changes they did make – like terminal choices and undersizing some traces – only serve to lower the quality of the knock-off. Surely this was a cost-cutting move, so they could undercut sales of the original, right? Apparently not – the knock off is more expensive. Yes, [Brian]’s board is a kit and the imitator is fully assembled, but it still begs the question of why?

Hats off to [Brian] for not only making a useful product, but for taking the time to engineer it properly and having the ambition to put it on the market. It’s a pity that someone felt the need to steal his work, but it seems to be a rite of passage these days.

66 thoughts on “Tindie Seller Reviews A Knock-Off Of His Own Product

    1. Probably nothing. If you’re making sufficiently little money from it that hiring a lawyer is too expensive, which I’d imagine is probably the case for most individual items on Tindie, what would be the point of going after knockoffs?

    2. The site pictures, write up, software/source (if any), gerber, PCB, the artwork of the schematic can be copyrighted, but NOT the electrical connections. For something trivial like this, patents won’t help you either as it cost a lot more to file and for defending – good luck with that.

      If they reverse engineer and redraw the schematic and layout, there isn’t much you can do.

    3. Keep creating new features. Make sure that the copier is always at least one version behind. Make it expensive for the copier to keep up. Maybe even have a new design ready to start using as soon as you see a copy online. At the very least, increment your version number. People usually want the latest and greatest. Especially if the copy is both more expensive and a version behind.

    4. PCB wise what they did was perfectly fine. As has been mentioned a few times in the comment, this is a pretty simple PCB that anyone with some PCB design knowledge could knock out pretty easily.

      I could complain to Aliexpress about the images, I’m sure they would remove them if asked. I mention in the video that I use Aliexpress images in my videos from time to time so I think it might be a bit rich to take action when the reverse happens.

      As for the text, that’s unclear to me.

      1. From some how-it’s-made videos, the boards are made with a very thin coat of copper, etched, and then are plated to the desired thickness. This saves having to etch a huge amount of copper off a board and it saves having to have board stock with every possible thickness. Since plated though holes have to be plated, it is just part of the process. A thinner trace means less plating, though it’s hard to see how much it would actually save.

  1. “Apparently not – the knock off is more expensive. Yes, [Brian]’s board is a kit and the imitator is fully assembled, but it still begs the question of why?”

    Sometimes people don’t want to assemble the kit and just want to buy the product, and they’re willing to pay a premium for it.

    1. I love Brian’s work and the info he provides for his work. I have purchased the kit from Brian about 6 months ago… and still have not built it. I understand wanting a built version, as well as I understand the feeling of assembling a kit. The shame is, he does not charge much for the kit. I cant imagine he would be able to sell it assembled with out cutting corners on quality to keep a good price. His extensive information on his kit is what sold me on buying his board. That same info may have also made it easier for the knock off.

      Hopefully the bright side is the knock-off may get someone to try out his project where they normally wouldn’t. One can hope.

    2. the one thing i thought of on this is exposure. if 20000 people go to brians store it is an extremely limited exposure compared to how many go on aliexpress. I’m not going to lie if i was looking for something like that on aliexpress I probably would not have known it was brians design and if i needed it probably purchased it from there.

  2. “We Hackaday scribes see it all the time, as straight copy-pastes of our articles turn up on other websites under different bylines”

    Yeah Dan, it’s so bad for you guys at Hack A Day, they even seem to steal your stories before they are even posted on HaD!
    It’s like your being plagiarized and obviously hacked at the same time… *face palm*

    1. That proceder exists only because google is ranking sites on originality. When you are first one to share stories, your pagerank is increased. So other less popular sites use timestamps from future on archive.org to see what will be posted and copy from that and then people like you think HaD is not original. It’s a shame really… ;)

      1. I’m talking about all the other web sites that post about “some project” weeks, if not months before HaD and then you come here and they have pretty much paraphrased the other site for their own article. I’ve been reading HaD for a few years now…. I know they steal just as much as they are stolen from, it has shit to do with “google rankings” and more to do with hypocrisy…

    2. What are you even trying to say here? There’s no question that other sites literally copy posts from HaD and put different authors names on them. I see it all the time, it’s some automated scheme.

      1. I don’t deny that, but I’ve also seen HaD do pretty much the same thing. Someone else has already covered a project months ago, and HaD writers paraphrase the article… HaD often scrapes other tech blogs too is what I’m saying. It’s only been happening since the damn blog started…

  3. The thing about aliexpress knock-offs is that the shippinng is often very substantially cheaper than tindie, especially for world-wide cutomers (ie basically free from ali, often much more than the item itself from tindie).
    When that’s fixed, I think there will be more incentive to reward the original creator with the order.

  4. “We Hackaday scribes see it all the time, as straight copy-pastes of our articles turn up on other websites under different bylines”

    I know right…. It’s almost like when you use the pictures and info off other peoples website’s to write articles without their consent or permission. :P

    1. The difference is that Hackaday link back to the original work they are writing about and paraphrase informationnin their own words, driving views to the original creator.
      The sites that scrape Hackadays work do no such thing for hackaday.

  5. I think the word “copied” is being thrown around far too loosely here. The “knockoff” may have had inspiration from his board, but it’s not like they took his Gerbers and just erased his name from the silkscreen or something. In fact, I see at least one improvement in their design – they allow reprogramming of the ESP via the USB without having to remove the module. It doesn’t appear that his board allows you to do that.

    There’s no real IP theft here. Someone saw what he had done (effectively created an adapter board between two off the shelf modules), and did it. I think the board would have been obvious to anyone skilled in the art, so there’s really no chance of getting any patent protection on it. He could easily protect trademarks, but that’s not what they’ve copied.

    1. Right? “Oh.. you used a 555 timer! My design uses a 555 timer, and Astable to whit! you thief!” I mean he’s using an ESP on a carrier board! SO ORIGINAL! Maybe that trace doesn’t need to be that wide too? Did he do the math to see if that trace is capable of the ampacity needed or?

    1. Yeah, I mean, who in their right mind would want the effort he put into something protected, right? I mean, if I put thousands of man hours into something, why should I be the one to profit from it, when the next guy can just copy the crap out of it.

    1. I love the DMD! Unfortunately my students mostly use it to draw big dot-matrix penises… But at least it gets them programming.

      I’ve found the Freetronucs hardware and libraries to be excellent. The Eleven is the best Uno clone out there, and the little 128*128 OLED the best screen + SD card reader. HaD readers, if you like big colouful displays and open hardware/software, give Freetronics a try. They are no strangers to having their designs copied either, having been horribly ripped off by a retailer who will remain nameless.

      No, wait. It was Jaycar. Jaycar used to sell Freetronics’ products, then ripped off the designs (right down to the packaging) to sell under their own brand. Shame on you, Jaycar.

      1. F**k Jaycar, if they weren’t practically the only place in AU to buy Deoxit off the shelf, I’d happily never set foot in one of their stores ever again.

        They are nothing more than a DX/aliexpress shopfront these days.

  6. Seems like a lengthy review of a copy from a product that has not much IP to begin with.
    Most of the value of the whole thing is in the dot matrix panel itself and in the firmware to control the whole thing.
    The PCB is not much more than a socket for an ESP module and some wiring.

    I do not like the bad PCB design.
    I was confused about the claim of 6 Amps going through the connectors, and with it the thin PCB tracks.
    If you look at another video of this project:
    then it seems that the big amps is going directly from the power supply to the Dot Matrix board.
    Can this addon board not simply steal a bit of 5V power from the IDC connector?

    On the copied board the 5V seems to be directly connected to the “beefy” connector and to the USB connector, which is not good, and may be the cause of the humming noises.

    Also, the polarity is switched between the Green original connector and the Blue copy, but it’s quite clearly marked on the PCB.

    For solving connector problems like these I am sort of standarizing on no connectors on wires at all. Just ferrules, or sometimes a very small amount of solder to hold the wires together.
    This works pretty well with WAGO 222 or WAGO221.
    I use this especially for temporary connections which need more current than a breadboard can handle.

    As this is about nockoffs:
    A knockoff of the WAGO221 is sold widely over Ali with blue levers instead off orange levers. These are bad. Do not buy them. The holes for the wires are smaller, and the blue lever easily gets dislogded which prevents the whole mechanism from working.
    Big Clive did a video about the knockoff of the WAGO 222. This is an excellent product, and an improvement and extension of the original. This variant is designed to connect a 2 or 3 wire cable to another cable (solid or flexible)
    Tanks to the high resolution details in Clive’s video I have determined that the versions I have are differentthough.
    Text on the backside of Clive’s connector(@01:16) is “PCT” with some number, while mine version has “SPL-3” on the back.

    The original Wago’s are rated for 32A and have a small, but pretty thick piece of copper in them.
    The straight through connectors thinner copper but can still handle some significant current, more in Clive’s video…

    Copies of copies are also common.
    Take vor example the small “BY28” geared stepper motor. These do not only come in different voltage and gear ratio’s, but also have other differences and seem to be made by at least 6 different manufacturers (or revisions?)

  7. I can’t help but feel like the very concept of intellectual property is going the way of the dodo. Better get used to it, I guess. Still, I’d trust Brian’s board way more than the cheapo knockoff.

    1. I must test this, but my thinking is that since its on a seperate PCB and even in most cases people use the header pins as a type of socket so they are over 1 cm apart from each other that it would not have any practical impact, but I have not tested it. one for the back log

    1. Karma has come back to bit me. I used to get the official Wemos ones til they started charging a lot for postage. Suddenly the equation wasnt $2.5 for a clone versus $4 for a wemos, but $2.5 for a clone versus $8 for a wemos

      1. Same for me. I managed to get a bunch of them just before they jacked up the shipping price to $7.50 each to Australia. I’m all for supporting them and all, but they are really just a breakout board for and Espressif module. There’s a lot more engineering in their ESP32 boards. I’d pay a bit extra for those, but not 3-4x for no good reason. They burned a lot of their loyal early supporters when they up and deleted their forum, which many of us poured countless hours into.

  8. I don’t see my reply.
    Just tell me how to learn if RGB panel can be controlled via D1 Mini Matrix Shield,

    “There are also versions available for ESP32 boards!

    TinyPICO Matrix Shield
    ESP32 Matrix Shield (Mini32)

    and what is a total cost of the shield + PCB to get RGB panel to work .


    There are 2-sided RGB panels on a market, and signage can be programmed via MS Windows provided software and code can be saved to usb pendrive and panels works with usb pendrive inserted into usb slot

    Howw to know if such individual RGB panel can be controlled via TinyPICO or another shield ?

  9. Someone had the nerve once to copy one of my Tindie products *ON TINDIE*.

    Since the thing was open hardware, I actually didn’t mind that he copied the design, but he also copied the pictures and descriptions from my store, which is where I draw the line. Of course, Tindie did the right thing and took them down immediately.

  10. So let me get this straight, when I designed a 32 servo controller with a single PIC and put the hex files out there, everyone complained it should be open source. When I released the source and said you cant sell them, everyone jumped my shit and said its not true open source. When I saw a guy post his robot arm designs as open source, but cant commercially sell, there was a huge hack a day outcry that its not true open source — so you open sourced something and someone made and sold them and now you bitch about it? all the scriptkiddie makers whine and complain because they cant do the work, and when they do the work they whine and complain because someone did something with it.

  11. Sadly, this kind of thing will happen and continue to happen. The question really is how much damage is done. Sometimes the knock off is a poor imitation others they are on par, and when this happened to me I pretty much lost my entire market. I tried the legal route and there is nothing you can do. Even with the copyright laws in my favour, I had to be prepared to challenged the infringement in the region it was committed and well, Yeah that is cheap – NOT!

    As mentioned above, makers don’t make enough money off their inventions to be able to fight the copiers, and the copiers don’t care. The real travesty is when the client base is lost even when it’s made public the design has been stolen simply because it’s cheaper.

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.