Tim Ellwood updates us on the H&K Lawsuits against airsoft retailers on trademark infringements in the US. For all those who are not aware of this, H&K, and also Umarex, have filed lawsuits in 2009 against several airsoft retailers and Tim says that the lawsuits are still ongoing. So for now, it's the lawyers who are doing the talking.
The latest company that got sued is Toyrrific LLC. and added to the list of the following companies being sued:
- Heckler & Koch, Inc. et al v. Airsplat
- Heckler & Koch, Inc. et al v. Evike.com, Inc.
- Heckler & Koch, Inc. v. Team S.D., Inc.
- Heckler & Koch, Inc. v. Airsoft G.I.
- Heckler & Koch, Inc. v. Airsoft Atlanta, Inc.
Tim is still trying to get updates, so check his blog whenever you can. If you have noticed some of the H&K airsoft gun models at other retailers are now mainly under the UMAREX brand, and of course are made by Ares airsoft in Hong Kong.
Other airsoft manufacturers, especially in Taiwan, have avoided using H&k Trademarks on their models that bear resemblance to the H&K models. We do not know how much trademark licensing costs are part of the total costs of an airsoft gun that comes with properly licensed trades, but if some of the more successful airsoft manufacturers are avoiding such licensing, then it must be it's affecting the bottomline. SRC, WE, and ICS call their airsoft guns based on the H&K models with some other names, such as G39C for the WE's gas blowback rifle, and ICS for the MX5-Pro series.
The point of contention here is that H&K/Umarex is why sue the retailers when it's the at the manufacturing end that trademarks are put? But then, since it's harder to impose intellectual property violations at the point of manufacture (read: Mainland China), then it's best to hit these products at the retailer level.
Magpul has done an effective job at enforcing its intellectual property by setting up the Magpul PTS division in Hong Kong where they can have a good watch at airsoft products being made in Mainland China and ensure that these should have the proper Magpul License plus under their strict quality control. Magpul may also be more reasonable company to talk to as they minimized any disruption in production of such products.
Intellectual property is still property and rightful owners should be able to protect and earn from such. So is there an end in sight for such lawsuits? We cannot say. But one thing for sure is that as much as possible these should not be able to disrupt livelihood for those who have made honest mistakes (the retailers since they don't do the manufacturing), and airsoft player's supply of airsoft guns.
There is already a precedent, which is the Colt vs Bushmaster as posted in 2006 at Arnies Airsoft. For now, most of the litigation is around the use of trademarks not trade dress nor function (since airsoft guns have different mechanisms than real guns).
The best answer for this is for real steel companies to make their own airsoft products and compete against existing airsoft manufacturers if they want to rectify the situation. Or buy an existing airsoft manufacturer rather than outsource. But then any self-respecting airsoft manufacturer does not want to be tied down to a certain line of guns/models/brand. They listen to the market and make the model that airsoft players would clamor for, whether it's based on H&K, Colt, or KAC. Heck they will even make a model with a Disney look if that's what the players want.
As Tim asks, "Why can't we all just get along?"
We'll delve more on this issue in airsoft.