Last Christmas, Sears was selling the wrench at a fast pace. This year, though, Sears has a special display for its own wrench, made in the red and black colors of its house brand, Craftsman.
One customer who recently saw the new Craftsman tool, called the Max Axess wrench, thought it was an obvious knockoff, right down to the try-me packaging. "I saw it and I said, 'This is a Bionic Wrench'," recalled Dana Craig.
The tools have one significant difference, Craig noted. The Bionic Wrench is made in the United States and the Max Axcess is made in China.
Sears' switch from a tool invented and manufactured in the United States to a very similar one made offshore has already led to a loss of American jobs and a brewing patent battle.
Craftsman tools are billed as, "America's most trusted tool brand". Are you trusting them as much now? This battle also raises questions about how much entrepreneurs and innovators, who rely on the country's intellectual property laws, can protect themselves. For the little guy, court battles are inevitably time-consuming and costly, no matter the outcome. Still, Dan Brown is determined to fight.
Since Sears has halted new orders for the Bionic Wrench, the Pennsylvania company that makes the tool has had to lay off 31 workers, said Keith Hammer, the project manager at the company, Penn United Technologies.
"Our situation is an example of why we're not getting jobs out of innovation," Brown said. "When people get the innovation, they go right offshore. What happened to me is what happened to many people so many times, and we just don't talk about it."
Inventors typically spend $10,000 to $50,000 to obtain the type of patent Brown has on the wrench. The fact that Sears made some small changes to the wrench's design will make the case more challenging.
So there you have another example of not only patent infringement but a major US company that is having its products made offshore. I do have some Craftsman tools from years ago. But I haven't bought any in recent years so I'm hoping that they were made in the US years ago. But they may not have been. I can tell you that I have bought my last tool from Sears. If possible, my last item from Sears, period. Of course you can hardly buy any clothes, shoes, or household item that is made in the U.S. but I can control who I buy from. And with Sears pulling this trick on an American manufacturer and an American inventor, I will try not to ever buy from them again.
I was disappointed with Sears a few years ago when they sold out to, of all companies, KMart. This is the turning point for me. I'll be writing to them saying no more Sears or KMart purchases from me. I bet Richard Sears and Alvah Roebuck are turning over in their graves!