One of Australia’s most celebrated modern inventors will lock horns with an alleged copycat that claims to be preparing for a global launch.
Flow Hive developed a hive that allows honey to flow out the front into collection jars, representing the first modernisation in the way beekeepers collect honey. It took a decade to develop.
But it has been forced to defend its turf after discovering an apparent copycat brand in recent days that has proven elusive to track down.
Father and son Stuart and Cedar Anderson with their invention the Flow Hive, which has been patented around the world.
Alleged copycat Tapcomb is undertaking an extensive social media marketing campaign claiming to be the world’s first truly bee-friendly tappable hive, contacting Flow Hive customers via Facebook retargeting.
Tapcomb has also adopted similar phrases such as being “gentle on bees” and offering beekeepers “honey on tap”. However, it told MySmallBusiness there are substantial differences between the two hive producers.
Flow Hive co-inventor Cedar Anderson said Flow Hives are patented around the world. His lawyers have been unable to uncover patents for Tapcomb.
“The frame they show in their marketing video appears similar to cheap Chinese copies we’ve seen, which we believe infringes on many aspects of the Flow Hive intellectual property. Where necessary, we will seek to enforce our intellectual property rights decisively,” Anderson says.
“Our patent covers cells that split and honey that drains through the comb, which is exactly what they’re claiming to be bringing to market first. It looks like a blatant patent infringement to me,” he says.
The Flow Hive taps into the hive and drains honey, without having to stress out the bees.
Flow Hive made global headlines when its crowdfunding bid broke all fundraising records on platform Indiegogo, raising more than $13 million. The campaign set out to raise $100,000, but astonished even the inventors when it raised $2.18 million in the first 24 hours.
Flow Hives have since been adopted by beekeepers in more than 100 countries and boasts more than 40,000 customers, mostly in Australia and the US. The company now employs 40 staff.
Tapcomb claims major differences
Tapcomb, however, claims its hive design to be substantially different, conceding that the dimensions are similar to Flow Hive.
“Much like lightbulbs, the differentiator is in the internal workings that are the basis for product quality and intellectual property,” US director of parent company Beebot Inc, Tom Kuhn says.
It feels like someone has stolen something from your house and you’ve got to deal with it even though you really just want to get on with doing a job you’re extremely passionate about.
Flow Hive co-inventor Cedar Anderson
Tapcomb hives are being tested by beekeepers in Tasmania, Britain, Hong Kong and Greece, he says. “We plan to launch Tapcomb worldwide in order to provide consumers a choice of products.”
However, Anderson says the internal workings of Tapcomb appear to be similar to an early Flow Hive prototype, adding that his patent covers the moving parts regardless of their depth inside the hive.
Tapcomb lists its office address as Portland, Oregon, where Flow Hive also has a base. An address search reveals a residential townhouse that sold in late January. Other online searches list Tapcomb as being Hong Kong-based.
Kuhn says he has filed for patents in the US, Australia, Hong Kong, China and India. He would not reveal pricing and said he is hunting for a manufacturer. “The main thing for us is maximum quality at an agreeable price point.”
Modernising honey harvesting
This isn’t the first apparent copycat Flow Hive has had to tackle, with strikingly similar products listed for sale on various websites.
“There have been lots of very poor Chinese fakes, and it’s sad to see other people fall into the trap of purchasing copies, only to be disappointed with poor quality,” Anderson says.
“Any inventor that develops a new product that has taken off around the world has to expect opportunistic people to try and take market share. Of course, there are always people out there prepared to undertake this kind of illegal activity for financial gain.
“It feels like someone has stolen something from your house and you’ve got to deal with it even though you really just want to get on with doing a job you’re extremely passionate about.”
China: the Wild West
Asserting ownership of IP rights such as patents, trade marks and designs and obtaining appropriate relief can be a challenging exercise for inventors, Wrays patent attorney Andrew Butler says.
“It can be difficult to get legal relief in these scenarios. China is pretty much the Wild West when it comes to theft of property rights, even though the Chinese government has taken steps to improve its IP environment.
“Chinese counterfeiters are often mobile, elusive and don’t have any regard for third party trade mark or other proprietary rights. They are usually well funded and well advised, and are good at covering their tracks, making it difficult to identify the perpetrators or to obtain satisfactory legal outcomes.”