Family’s fight to stop Chinese copies of sawmill in cutting- edge case 

“I think it has created a deal of excitement in Australia because here you have an Australian company that has succeeded in China against a Chinese company for patent infringement,” Ms Hendy said.

In March 2014, a family-run engineering business in north-eastern Victoria awoke to a nightmare.
The company’s highly successful portable sawmill — exported to more than 100 countries worldwide — was featured on a Chinese website.

But it was not their website and it was not their machine, but a near exact imitation.

“We’ve always been concerned that there’d be a copier in somewhere like China,” Lucas Mills co-owner Warren Lucas explained.
“Matt, who is my right-hand man, spends a lot of time on the internet just keeping an eye on what our competitors are up to.
“And he found a company that was even advertising it basically as a Lucas Mill.”
The company sought urgent advice from a Melbourne patent attorney firm.
“There has been a long-standing problem of Chinese companies infringing patent rights of foreigners,” Tracey Hendy of FPA Patent Attorneys said.
But getting evidence that would be strong enough to challenge the counterfeiters in a Chinese court of law was a daunting and difficult task.
“It wasn’t going to be possible to just rock up at the factory in a small town in provincial China with a legal team and try to purchase a $10,000 piece of machinery,” Ms Hendy said.

So the Australian legal team joined forces with Chinese patent lawyers and, crucially, a private investigator.
His role was pivotal. He learnt that a counterfeit machine had left the factory in China and was in a large dockside warehouse ready for export.

Exposing the truth
In a nail-biting sting, the Chinese customs authorities swooped.

When the shipping container was opened it revealed a portable sawmill that was almost an exact copy of the Lucas machine. Right down to the green and yellow livery.

“The machine itself, even the gear box was a direct copy,” Jenny Lucas, who runs the business with husband Warren, recalled.

“Every single finger print on our machine has been copied.”
Husband Warren continued the story.
“When the crate was opened up, a Chinese judge was present and he made the observation when he saw the instruction manual — he said to our patent attorney in China, ‘I think we’ve got them here’.
“‘How can it not be the same when they can use your instruction manual, picture for picture and word for word in Chinese?'”
It was the irrefutable proof the family needed.
Late last year Lucas Mills was awarded damages of 2 million yuan — about $430,000.

However, the defendants appealed against that damages figure, and a few weeks ago a Chinese court reduced the amount of statutory compensation by half.

The long and costly case cost far more than that, but there was more at stake than just money.
“We needed to protect our market … our product, all the research and development we’d put years into developing,” Ms Lucas said.
“And it’s criminal for someone to come along and just copy that.
“So basically for us, we didn’t have any other option.”
Ms Hendy said there were other considerations that made the court case necessary.
“The Chinese knock-off was inferior from a safety perspective so potentially it could have damaged Lucas’ safety reputation,” she said.

Lucas Mills believes the chances of getting their compensation payout are slim but the legal victory in China was crucial.
“It has stopped them from copying us and China has unique exclusivity laws so they cannot manufacture in China for another 30 years,” Mr Lucas said.
In China, a case like this is not all that unusual, but in Australia the Lucas’ legal victory was big news.
“I think it has created a deal of excitement in Australia because here you have an Australian company that has succeeded in China against a Chinese company for patent infringement,” Ms Hendy said.
“So we’re really proud I guess that a little company in Australia can stand up and protect its own product,” Ms Lucas said.
“So it’s a pretty good story I think.”

Mills reaching Alaska, Congo, US, New Guinea Highlands
Three quarters of the mills made in the Lucas factory at Wooragee near Beechworth are exported.
Some of the destinations include the wilds of Alaska, the jungles of the African Congo, the giant Redwood forests of the United States and remote villages in the New Guinea Highlands.
There are also strong domestic sales, often to farmers who use the portable mill to cut fallen trees into useful timber for building farm sheds or stockyards.
The Lucas family is renowned for being highly inventive.
Mr Lucas and his brother Rex developed and built the machine along with their father Geoff.
That was 22 years ago, when the farming family turned to manufacturing when wool prices took a dive.
Last year, the company built and sold about 1,000 machines.
There are countless stories of people who, using the mill, have built their own houses and in some cases re-built their lives.
After Victoria’s disastrous Black Saturday bushfires this portable mill helped salvage millions of lineal metres of blackened timber.
“We’ve had people write to us to say that the timber that they’ve been able to mill off their farm has meant they’ve been able to keep going and maybe save their farm after a period of drought,” Mr Lucas said.

Sustainability and selective logging

Along the way, the mill has also played a humanitarian role, one that the Lucas family never foresaw.
“It allows the locals to compete with the big foreign companies that come in and knock the whole jungle down,” Geoff Lucas said.
“They can go in and selectively log with this type of mill and let all the other stuff continue to grow, whereas the big companies just come in and plunder and knock it all down and plant oil palm or something like that.
“And that’s the end of the jungle. But this is a more sustainable process.”
Mr Lucas has travelled to many of the places around the globe where the mill is being used.
“Up in New Guinea we have sawmills that go into villages where they’ve got major, major problems with malaria and with one of our sawmills they can build a house where they can make insect-proof and keep the mosquitoes out and it’s improving peoples’ lifestyles,” he said.
http://mobile.abc.net.au/news/2016-09-16/lucas-mill-family-fight-to-stop-chinese-copies-of-sawmill/7848394?pfmredir=sm

One Comment Add yours

  1. Diane Wilson says:

    Great news. I bet there are more patent infringements being produced in china. This is a start though.

    Like

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