Wrench made by Penn United of Butler County copied by Sears, made in China, company claims
With Chinese labor costs so low, it's hard for American companies, especially small ones, to manufacture products in the United States.
But Dan Brown, owner of the Illinois-based Loggerhead Tools, thought it was important for his innovation, the Bionic Wrench.
When Sears Holdings Inc. agreed to sell the wrench, Brown enlisted the services of Penn United Technologies in Jefferson, Butler County, to manufacture it.
“There was no need for me to keep (the manufacturing) here, but I thought it was the right thing to do,” Brown said.
After selling more than 250,000 wrenches through the store last year, Brown said Sears started to drag its feet when it came time to order more for Father's Day. Then, as he was going to finalize Sears' Christmas order, Brown got a call from a customer.
The man said he had spotted a wrench that looked like the one Loggerhead made but with slight cosmetic differences and labeled under Sears' brand as the Craftsman Max Axess.
Making matters worse, the tool was made in China.
“We went from a strong wind at our backs to a smelly wind in our face,” Brown said.
Now Brown is in a legal battle with Sears over whether the retail giant infringed on his patent.
Meanwhile, Penn United Technologies has about 100,000 wrenches intended for Sears in its warehouse.
“We've been manufacturing the wrenches for about seven years,” said Keith Hammer, a project manager at Penn United. “We build the wrenches on a forecasted order, not the actual order.”
When Penn United found it would not make more wrenches, it did not hire 30 seasonal employees it usually employs at Christmas time.
Hammer said the company, which employs more than 600 people, won't suffer too much of a financial setback because of the loss of the Sears deal.
“I think they'll sell, but maybe not all at once,” he said. “Not too many places would take as much product as Sears.”
For Brown's company, the cost might be much greater.
“We already had to lay off 30 people,” he said, “Sears was 60 percent of our business.”
Loggerhead filed a copyright infringement action against Sears on Nov. 9 in U.S. District Court in Chicago.
In a written statement, Sears denied any wrongdoing.
“We take intellectual property rights very seriously and respect those rights,” the statement said. “The allegations made by Mr. Brown simply are untrue, and we will vigorously defend against all of the allegations raised in his lawsuit.
“Despite some visual similarities to other tools on the market, the Craftsman Max Axess locking wrench operates in a different way, using a mechanism designed in the 1950s that Mr. Brown expressly argued to the patent office was different from his own design.”
“I know I'm going to win,” Brown said. “But by the time it gets back to me, the price will probably be so low that I won't be able to make it in the States anymore.”
R.A. Monti is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- More employers adopt generous leave policies
- How companies may adjust to tax on employee benefits
- Koppers CEO believes struggling company can do better, transform
- Credit bureau Experian keeps info on cellular firm’s customers
- Anxiety pervades town built by Volkswagen during emissions-cheating scandal
- Analysis tallies death toll from Volkswagen diesels’ air pollution
- Small-scale solar power market draws big utilities
- ATMs to give cash without your card
- Judge backs Sunoco in dispute over its use of eminent domain
- For some small-business owners, fast, short-term loans have unsustainable interest
- EDMC to lay off 115 more faculty and staff at Art Institute campuses