Zippo lighters apparently come with a lifetime guarantee. Zippo’s maker thus has extra incentive to prevent and recognize copycats – the copies are taking away sales potentially, and are cost Zippo time and money if they get sent in to be repaired. A cheap disposable lighter costs about $1, I would guess, while according the article in today’s Wall Street Journal, a Zippo® brand lighter costs about $20. Wall Street Journal (March 25, 2011: The Lighter Side of Counterfeiting Puts Zippo in a Fix.
The article goes on to detail some of the ways Zippo Manfucturing Co. tries to stay one step ahead of the copycats and tries to avoid repairing “Rippos” or fakes. Curiously, the article fails to mention one ‘weapon’ that Zippo might use to shut down infringers and to try to stop the importation of knock offs: Trademark registration. In addition to registrations for the ZIPPO brand name and the logo, Zippo has wisely registered the product shape as a trademark.
U.S. Trademark Registration No. 2606241 for “cigarette lighters.”
Does Zippo have an aggressive intellectual property enforcement program? The “Rippos” described in the article all appear to violate one or more of Zippo’s registered trademarks. Since Zippo lighters are only made in the United States (Bradford, PA), Zippo would likely have some success using a recordation with U.S. Customs, paired with briefings with Customs officials at ports, to block a large amount of counterfeits from abroad (the article states that Zippo estimates 12 million fake Zippos are made per year in China). Zippo’s US Customs recordal for the registered trademark featuring the lighter configuration can be found here. Given these registrations, why are there so many “Rippos”?
Lesson: Register trademarks – and then use the registrations when appropriate and necessary in enforcement and in Customs recordation.