Launch Slideshow

Is Your Tool A Knockoff?

Is Your Tool A Knockoff?

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    Empire Level

    This is the real thing, an Empire em81.9 True Blue (blue liquid in the vials) magnetic torpedo level.

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    Empire Level

    This is a knockoff of the Empire em81.9 torpedo level. The infringer stopped short of puting blue liquid in the vials but everything else looks the same. That's not to say that they are the same; every company whose tools are copied will tell you the fakes are not as good as the originals.

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    Empire Level

    This is the previous tool from the other side. The screws on the back are a dead give-away that this is a fake. It doesn't matter that the infringer did not print Empire on this level; Empire owns the rights to this look and it's illegal to copy it.

Tool manufacturers are fighting to stem the tide of counterfeits entering the U.S. market.

According to Jenni Becker, the President of Empire Level, some overseas manufacturers play by a different set of rules, ones that do not include honoring intellectual property (IP) rights. Outside of the U.S., where there is less chance of prosecution, infringers are selling fakes that include the brand label. For sales in this country they are more likely to copy everything except the label and hope patent holders don't notice. The appearance or "trade dress" of a tool can be patented so that's what's being ripped off – and the customer too if he's fooled into thinking the tool is something it's not.

This is a problem for manufacturers and tool buyers around the world; in March of this year a law enforcement raid in the United Arab Emirates uncovered 150,000 fake Stanley, DeWalt, and Black & Decker tools. The haul included hand tools and 1,000 drills. Empire has been chasing down companies that copy its torpedo levels. According to Becker, if the packaging says "Made in China", the torpedo level is not from Empire (which makes 100% of its torpedo levels and 90% of its other products in a plant in Wisconsin). That's not to say every torpedo level that looks like one of Empire's is fake. The company has produced torpedo levels under the Craftsman label since 1929 – which is fine because Empire holds the patents.

Click the photo on the left to see examples of real and fake levels. For more on the problem of knockoff tools, see this excellent article by John Caulfield at Builder Online.