Privately held and 118-year-old Charlotte Pipe & Foundry recently discovered a Shanghai, China-based company called Yitai Plastics had registered the Charlotte Pipe name, brand and logo in the country in 2010. Yitai Plastics had been producing, marketing and selling plastic pipe and fittings for sale in China and several Asian countries under the Charlotte Pipe name for years, complete with exterior signage and even business cards with the Charlotte Pipe logo on them.
Charlotte Pipe spokesperson Brad Muller recently was featured in a January Fox News report about China’s unfair trade and business practices that drew an outpouring of support for the Charlotte, North Carolina-based manufacturer. BNP Media Plumbing Group Editorial Director Mike Miazga caught up with Muller recently to talk about the situation that has caused unneeded headaches for the manufacturer of cast-iron and plastic pipe and fittings for plumbing applications.
PM: How did you make this discovery?
BM: We discovered it by accident. They just stole our logo and were using it. There’s no sense of fairness here and no sense of business ethics. We can’t believe how brazen the Chinese are in gaining any edge in trade and technology. This is something that could affect a lot of people in manufacturing in America. It was right under our noses. The Fox reporters asked why did they pick us? We’re a strong brand in the plumbing industry, but this could happen to anybody whether it’s a Kohler or Delta Faucet or Moen. Anybody could have their brand stolen.
PM: You mentioned this is not illegal in China?
BM: They registered the brand and trademark in China. They don’t look at anything overseas. As long, as they are selling the products in China, it’s legal as long as they were the first to register the mark, regardless of who might already own it.
PM: How are you putting a stop to this?
BM: We had to hire a Chinese law firm to attempt to recover our intellectual property. If it’s successful, which is not guaranteed, we would have to pay the Chinese government to register our brand as intellectual property in China to prevent the situation from repeating itself. There isn’t much faith that we will gain much relief. Unfortunately, these types of remedies cost companies a lot of money. Charlotte Pipe has the resources to defend itself, but maybe other companies do not. It’s a non-productive investment of resoruces. We’re not investing in what we should be, which is things such as machinery.
PM: You noted in a seven-month investigation, the U.S. Trade Representative found Chinese theft of American IP currently costs between $225 billion and $600 billion annually. But this goes beyond just IP theft, correct?
BM: That is correct. We’re also fighting to keep the Chinese from dumping cast-iron pipe and fittings in the U.S. market at unfair prices. We won our anti-dumping duty and counterveiling duty case last July against imports of cast-iron fittings from China that were underselling the fittings at 367% less than fair value. We have another International Trade Commission hearing coming up on cast-iron soil pipe that we expect we will prevail on as well. We’ve had to hire a D.C. trade attorney to litigate these. We will defend our markets and products until we run out of resources to do it. It’s a matter of survival.