Written by Mark Lopreiato
It is no secret that many American small businesses are still reeling from the effects of the pandemic. As a small business owner, I know how hard it is to get back on your feet after a rough year. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t the only significant challenge businesses like mine are facing. The sale of counterfeit merchandise on online marketplaces continues to wreak havoc, and I’ve watched as counterfeiters have stolen my intellectual property and business’s potential earnings.
After proudly serving in the U.S. military, then graduating from S.D.S.U. with a bachelor’s degree, I started my moving strap manufacturing business in 1998. Based in California, Forearm Forklift Lifting Straps aim to make moving heavy furniture, large appliances, and mattresses a simpler task with the leverage-lifting-strap-system I invented. For years, I invested everything I had, eventually securing a patent that would supposedly protect my design and the market I created.
Running your own business is always a challenge, but sadly for the past 11 years, I’ve struggled to protect my patent from counterfeiters selling fake versions of Forearm Forklift on online marketplaces. Since then, we’ve seen our small family business on the brink of collapse as Amazon has done little to prevent fakes of our product from being sold on its marketplace. By 2015, our business was so badly hurt by this infringement and the e-commerce giants that facilitate the sale of fakes through lax oversight that we saw less than $5,000 in annual profit and had to lay off many of our employees. What was once our thriving, flagship product became a stolen design on Amazon. Third-party merchants, hidden behind anonymous company names and often operating in China, began using our name, images, logo, and labels on what was originally our product, with a marked down price.
Our innovative patent didn’t seem to matter anymore. Even though we’ve reported thousands of counterfeit examples to Amazon alone, they took away our right to report because they refuse to pursue these criminals. And it should be noted that before Amazon denied our right to report, the damage fees rewarded to us totaled less than $67,000, which is hardly enough to re-hire those employees we were forced to let go.
While first-time customers buy cheap fakes of our product, they are most likely unaware of how that impacts my business. If any issues arise from the fake product, they then believe that my company makes bad quality, dangerous tools and our reputation is tarnished. E-commerce platforms have a responsibility to protect patents and copyrights. Plus, online shoppers deserve to get what they believe they’re buying, which are safe and authentic products that aren’t cheap knockoffs.
Legislative action is needed to protect my business and others from criminals profiting from counterfeits. The INFORM Consumers Act, which has been introduced in the U.S. Senate, is the kind of protection needed to combat this type of crime. The bipartisan legislation requires e-commerce websites to verify information from third-party sellers, such as a government-issued ID and necessary contact information. This way, when someone attempts to steal intellectual property from a legitimate business, there are some accountability measures and safeguards in place.
Small businesses desperately need the INFORM Consumers Act, especially with online marketplaces playing a greater role in our shopping habits. E-commerce platforms haven’t taken the steps to protect us, so lawmakers should ensure that other small businesses don’t experience the same fate as mine. God bless America!
Mark Lopreiato is the owner of Forearm Forklift, a tools company based in Baldwin Park, California.