I'm probably going to get kicked in the face for this one but sparkfun are stepping beyond the realms of sensibility here and are turning this into a war with random internet people who get offended easily to draw attention to Fluke and away from themselves and a really crappy purchasing and import decision.
I'm well on Fluke's side here as a an actual qualified electrical engineer. I trust Fluke's products and have done for over 20 years.
Multimeters are more than just budget devices to measure voltages, amperages and resistance. They sit between you and part of a circuit that might well kill you through electrocution or explosions. All it takes is a miswired socket, earth fault or short in a power supply and you've got 110-240v going up your arm and you're dead. Either that or the meter explodes, removing your fingers or spraying bits of plastic and metal into your eyes.
Yes it's that graphic.
To present that piece of junk as high quality device for $15 is totally wrong to start with. Even without reviewing it, it's not possible to purchase the isolation circuitry for that price from a Chinese component manufacturer.
Sparkfun is purely aimed at amateurs as expected but to go on this witch hunt is wrong.
Fluke are worried people will assume that these will be associated with their brand and rightfully so want that association removed. And obviously, on that basis, they're being destroyed so someone agrees.
I wouldn't touch one of those meters with a 20 foot long rubber pole and I wouldn't want them on the shelf next to a proper meter.
SparkFun are wrong as are probably most of the people cheering for the demise of Fluke here.
It's a low cost device for hobbyists who want to test their arduinos. The fact that it can't be used with a 240v source is irrelevant. If its safety limits are improperly marked, then you have a valid criticism.
You sound like you really just have a problem with electronics hobbyist amateurs who deign to intrude on your actual qualified electrical engineer grandeur. Get over it.
It's fine for people to use PCs (and lamps and toasters and blenders) even though they might have earth faults. It's fine for people to charge their phones even though there's a nonzero chance they'll use a counterfeit charger. And it's perfectly fine for people to probe 5V circuits using a $15.00 multimeter.
If you're really claiming that everyone needs a $400 Fluke before they can probe the circuit they just soldered together then I can only guess that you're really hurting for work?
I think bananas' point is that the Fluke brand means something important (even if a $15 multimeter can do the job, a Fluke is better), so it is worthwhile to protect that brand for people who do care about this stuff.
You're right. If he had said that then I would agree (as long as the brand protection isn't too sweeping... I remember a story about Fluke trying to claim the big-knob-on-the-front-of-a-handheld form factor, dunno how true it was).
But not everybody needs that. If kids want to to make a battery powered 555 drive an LED, do they need to wait until their parents can afford a Fluke? Or risk death? That seems to be what bananas is saying.
Sorry to correct myself that's not what I'm saying. To break it down:
1. Fluke have a right to protect their brand identity, which since 1988 approximately involved a yellow rubber case for their portable DMMs
2. A $15 multimeter is a pile of crap whatever you do and isn't suitable for anything other than battery powered circuitry as you state. I'd even question its value for that. It's useful for approximating but not measuring. It shouldn't be let near anything directly or indirectly mains connected even if it has a 240V AC range on the dial regardless though.
3. A $50-100 multimeter is however a safer investment. Even a bottom to mid-range Amprobe or Ex-tech will do the job fine and not put you at risk.
I can't afford three Fluke meters but I will use the Fluke for anything where risk is likely or I need accurate measurements. If I need to take more than one simultaneous measurement I will delegate the less critical ones to a couple of $80 Amprobe meters I use.
Perhaps a more pertinent question, is: are your kids worth $15 or $50 for safety equipment?
And I call BS on you. People do get electrocuted when dealing with toasters and other home electronics on a somewhat regular basis. "The Consumer Products Safety Commission estimates that on average 15 people are electrocuted in the U.S. annually due to faulty or misused home electrical appliances, including toasters."
No, but I do recognize they can be dangerous and so take reasonable precautions like unplugging them before trying to get toast out with a butter knife etc. 120v rarely kills people, but saying that does not mean it's 'safe'. https://xkcd.com/795/
You've totally missed the point. Yes toasters can kill people, but statistically very few deaths are by toaster. That's why as a society we've decided the useful convenience of toasters outweighs their inherent dangers. Similarly, we've decided that really cheap meters are beneficial enough to outweigh the slight possibility that someone might measure a too-high voltage while using the meter as an eyeshield or baby toy or something.
Safety is far from a binary thing. People used to build extremely unsafe toasters that changed over time in large part to government rules and regulations. We accept cars and trucks killing 30,000+ people in the US every year, but even that number is much smaller than it could if we let company's sell cars like they where designed in the 1950's or let people drive like they did back then.
We accept that cheap electronics are going to be somewhat less safe, but we don't accept people selling cheap electronics leaching off the reputations of high-quality brands. Not just because it can kill people but it also creates bad incentives where there is little point in creating quality if nobody can tell the difference.
And no they did not just randomly chose to have a yellow back it's a deliberate imitation of a quality product which could easily cause confusion in the marketplace and kill someone.
This subthread is about "safety", not trademarks. IANAIPL, and I have no opinion about what color the various cheap-ass meters I have used should be. If someone is too confused to contrast the letters comprising "Fluke" from those comprising "Mastech" or whatever, that someone is too confused to be metering circuits.
For my edification, can you point out one example of a human being who was killed while using a cheap meter, who would have been unharmed if using a precious Fluke?
Until you connect your Arduino's USB cable to your computer which is on a faulty earth and then realise that you have 100-240v going through your mains, to your computer case, up your USB cable, through your meter, up your arm, across your chest, down your desk leg and back to earth...
The potential difference between the 5v and GND on your Ardunio might be 5v but between your Arduino GND and real earth might be 180v floating.
Believe me that shit is scary and will kill you.
I'd rather people blew $250 on a meter and actually read up on electrical safety to be honest. If that's prohibitive, you're welcome to kill yourself through ignorance.
Why stop at multimeters, though? I mean, what would happen if you connected a USB drive "to your computer which is on a faulty earth and then realise that you have 100-240v going through your mains, to your computer case, up your USB cable, through your [hand], up your arm, across your chest, down your desk leg and back to earth". Clearly anyone selling $15 USB drives is endangering their customers and we should all buy $250 safety-rated ones.
In that case your computer is a death trap certain to cause fatal electrical shock the next time you connect your printer, flash drive, or USB nerf missile launcher. Your expensive multimeter probably won't save you in time (seriously though, do you test the grounding of your computer case every time you use it?)
> your computer which is on a faulty earth ... to your computer case
This can certainly happen and is indeed dangerous, but if the first time you find out is while experimenting with a USB peripheral on a test bench (as opposed to say resting your bare legs on the case), you should consider yourself lucky.
If you really are worried about getting killed while working on your electrical projects? spend $20 on a GFCI outlet or pdu. that's a life-saver. If your work bench doesn't have a gfci in the wall, go to home depot or whatever, and you can get a power strip that has GFCI functionality.
Note, from my understanding, the GFCI will provide some protection even if you only have two prongs; it monitors the hot and the neutral.
I think it's fairly likely that someone who is using this multimeter while working with e.g. Arduinos, would be the type of person who, when some piece of electronic equipment in their home isn't working, would say "I have this multimeter, let me check and see if there's voltage on the outlet"
This is exactly what a trademark is intended for. If I started a home goods store called "Home Hut", and made the logo a large orange square... i'd also be infringing, and for good reason. Home depot has built a reputation, and that trade mark orange is representative of that reputation.
And if I start a home improvement store using a tomatoish orange and call it "Bob's Home Store" would that also fall afoul of trademark in your book?
In the case of the DMM in question, it's not direct knock-off of a Fluke and according to SF the color is more of an orange-yellow than the Fluke safety yellow. SF's whole point is that the TM terms are too vague. Gray with a yellow border. What shade of gray? What shade of yellow? I don't get to claim a whole primary color and say you can make a DMM using any color even close to this.
So, since the design and construction of a multimeter is important (I wholeheartedly agree), do you simply look for ones that have a yellow border with a dark face, and trust that this implies they're well made? Or might you look for the actual trademark 'FLUKE', and even buy from a reputable distributor to avoid outright counterfeits?
Personally I'm not a Fluke junkie, and think there's plenty of reputable mid-range meters that will protect you just fine. However I also think that a distributor-branded direct-import is not likely to be one of these.
But as far as trademarks, we're really talking about two quite functional colors here - a neutral-colored face for readability, and a bright shroud on the other sides for visibility. Many meters have been using these color styles for quite some time and, as your loyalty to Fluke illustrates, this does little to dilute their brand.
 Electronic design, as would be implied by the context if not for confusion induced by graphic/industrial designers thinking they have a monopoly on the term.
I'm not a Fluke junkie either, but I don't buy the "functional colors" argument. Nobody made a multimeter that looked like that until Fluke started doing it. Fluke also makes a range of "intrinsically safe" multimeters with a red instead of orange border. Are those less "functional?" They are certainly less well-known, so it wouldn't make sense to copy them.
It's the same as the cheapo "bench" multimeters that have five input terminals and the same layout as an Agilent 344xxA (or Fluke 88xx) but don't have a 4-wire Ohms function (or even a low-enough range to need 4-wire Ohms) or a proper guard connection (which is the purpose of the the 5th terminal).
Blind brand loyalty isn't always a good thing, especially over the span of 20+ years where you stop even testing the alternatives. Technology advances FAST. You say nothing about having actually evaluated the cheaper alternatives in person? Are you sure that despite exponential increases in technology that prices haven't come down at all?
Are you sure about the true production costs, if you eliminate the 20 layers of middlemen and are only paying the 10cents / hour miners + 20cents / hour workers? This is a finance / markets question, not an engineering question.
Lots of strong emotions, not so sure about the evidence. Technology and cost of technology never stops advancing. Numerous large companies are guilty of price-fixing, e.g. the large-scale monitor price-fixing scandals from a few years ago. Bet you never even heard of those cases?
Parts sourcing is part of engineering. He is right, well designed high voltage protection is not going to be cheap, and these meters are obviously not designed with anything but digital testbench in mind.
High voltage doesn't automatically mean expensive. We're talking about low-speed battery-powered equipment whose only I/O is through buttons and an LCD, not something like a USB oscilloscope that needs high-speed galvanic isolation. Getting the details (shrouding, creepage, plastics) right (and keeping them that way) is going to take design time and vigilant QA, but the parts themselves aren't inherently expensive.
No. Parts sourcing is not even close to getting your pals that you know at the factory to slip in a custom assembly run, just paying the absolutely minimal costs and nearly 100% of the money going to the very bottom $1/hour end-workers.
There's an assumption that price=quality. That's ok, until we get into the extreme cases. We're talking about the extreme limits of how cheaply this could be done. The prices of the raw materials are not high, they're not made of solid gold or rare-earth materials. Assembly costs almost nothing.
To a company with a presence & reputation in the American market, "profit" consideres reputation and repeat customers. To a fly-by-night foreign company with no name, "profit" begins and ends at the point of sale.
> To a company with a presence & reputation in the American market, "profit" consideres reputation and repeat customers.
Not true. Think about all those telcos, ISPs, car producers, etc. that just sell bad products and services, don't give a damn about their customers and still profit. Unfortunately, business at large figured out how to be malicious to customers without losing money.
I used to think to you, until I moved across the world to a place where people make $1/hour (where I'm still residing now.) Tons of extremely high-quality products for cheap, that I've never seen in the US. Turns out that assuming Walmart is the end-all to low price goods was completely wrong.
Prices are set to maximize profit. Everywhere. Even at Walmart. Especially at Walmart.
On the bright side, the people reading sparkfun and getting pissed at fluke, probably never would have bought a fluke anyway, so no tremendous loss here. The market for $15 meters and fluke meters doesn't overlap much. It's been a while since I shopped DMMs, but isn't their entry-level meter ~$250?
All it takes is a miswired socket, earth fault or short
in a power supply and you've got 110-240v going up your
arm and you're dead. Either that or the meter explodes,
removing your fingers or spraying bits of plastic and
metal into your eyes.
If these are a serious danger I think people should be better informed. I'd like to make a youtube video demonstrating the problem. I have a £15 multimeter  and 240v residential mains electricity. How would I go about demonstrating the problem?
measuring the potential between the shield and your tongue... I (maybe inaccurately) read the parent comment as "If miswired sockets REALLY are a hazard to people messing around with 5V electronics, prove it"
Basically, there's a kind of romanticisation of Fluke multimeters in the electrical and electronics community as the only decent multimeter and their appearance as incredibly distinctive. This supposed distinctive appearance never seems to have existed - Flukes from any given era look far more similar to all the other multimeters and electronics from that era than to newer or older Flukes - but people believe it anyway, most likely because they rarely come across other multimeters.
In this case the entire design (color, shape, etc) is nearly identical to my Fluke meter. I'm sure they're not going after every yellow and gray meter on the market. These are clearly designed to look just like a Fluke meter
It certainly doesn't have the fluke logo on it, but as someone who uses yellow multimeters fairly regularly (Fluke and otherwise) I immediately (and possibly mistakenly) recognized the design (shape, color, the specific rotary switch used) as that of the particular model Fluke multimeter I have in my drawer. (FULL DISCLOSURE: I own two yellow multimeters and only one is a Fluke)
They didn't patent a multimeter with a gray front and yellow back. I don't think that is even patentable. You should really study the relevant facts of an issue well before forming such strong feelings about it.
I agree that having to destroy a shipment of perfectly usable multimeters sucks, but this seems like a pretty clear cut case of trademark violation to me. That multimeter really does look like a Fluke multimeter (see https://www.google.com/search?tbm=isch&q=fluke+multimeter). It was probably designed that way on purpose, probably because Fluke has a reputation for manufacturing high-quality multimeters, and someone could confuse it with a Fluke multimeter at a glance.
But should you really be allowed to trademark industrial design? Consider Dell XPS ultrabooks. They are obviously designed to look like a Macbook, but with a Dell logo instead of the Apple logo (http://cdn-static.cnet.co.uk/i/product_media/40002464/image3...). Or think about sport cars, Ferrari has a trademark for their horse logo, but they don't have a monopoly on "a sport car painted red".
I think that is the ideal tradeoff---the logo lets a consumer know what they are buying, but you should still be allowed to buy cheap products that look stylish...
Industrial design cannot be protected, but trade dress can. Trade dress protection is available when a particular, arbitrary and non-functional, design becomes distinctive of a product. For these aspects of design to be protected, it must actually be distinctive of the product (i.e. you can't just claim a mark on the gray/yellow combination, but you have to show, usually through surveys, that the market identifies that design with your product).
Industrial design usually won't qualify because it's functional. The color comes from the use of aluminum, aluminum is used for its structural properties, particular colors have more aesthetic value in the market, etc. Trade dress has to be more specific, not functional, and arbitrary.
A classic example is pink for Owens-Corning insulation. It's a totally arbitrary color choice for a product where aesthetics doesn't factor into buyers' choices, and had become strongly associated in the public with Owens-Corning's brand. If there was a functional reason for the pink color, or it was a situation where people would prefer a certain color for aesthetic reasons, the design choice wouldn't have been eligible for protection.
In the case of the shirt, there isn't confusion about if it is a soft drink, but a lawyer could successfully argue that a customer might buy the shirt thinking it was a coca-cola shirt. If the coca-cola trade dress did not exist, it is extremely unlikely that a shirt with that design would be marketed.
I'm not a lawyer, but I remember being told during an introductory class to business law in school that the definition of what makes a trademark can be whatever is considered to be so tied to the brand identity that people would immediately assume that the product belongs to the brand.
In the case of the Macbooks vs Dell XPS ultrabooks you could argue that what makes people recognize a Macbook is as much the glowing white apple logo as the aluminum case so people are not being fooled when they see a Dell XPS into thinking it's a Macbook.
Similarly, people don't immediately assume that a sport car painted red is a Ferrari. But if they were to see a car with a Ferrari logo (regardless of its color) they would most certainly assume that it's a Ferrari.
In short, it's my understanding that trademarks are by definition somewhat subjective. However I believe that the intention is a good one, as it protects as much customers than brands.
I was just pointing out what my understanding of a trademark is and how I think it wouldn't apply for the Dell vs Macbook example.
In any case, I don't think I'm qualified to have an opinion in the case being discussed here. Both because my understanding of trademark law is just a very general sense of what it is supposed to stand for and because I have absolutely no notion of what are the multimeter brands out there and what their designs look like.
For what it's worth, all the multimeters I recall using at school were either all yellow or all black and I have the feeling they were always the same brand although I don't remember what that was (I studied in Europe)
I think that a better example is Coke -- their bottle shape is a user-friendly design that is easy to hold onto, but more importantly it has become an iconic symbol of Coke the brand.
I think in the case of Apple, they iterate so often on basic laptop design that having trademarked trade dress around a laptop would be counter-productive. They always want their devices to be thinner and lighter, and that requires fundamental changes to the design (wedge shapes, unibody, etc)
With the Dell laptop, what really makes it look like Apple? It's silver and thin. There are literally dozens of vendors shipping thin, silver devices.
@phaemon (HN please increase your comment thread depth)
a) That's in the UK where Fluke doesn't have the same protections.
b) Those are newer, cheap, meters aping the design of Flukes, for that search to mean anything it should look back before Fluke's popularity or at least before they started using the current trademarked design.
c) Past just the first page the split gets much more even.
You just need to wait a bit before replying. The link takes some time to appear.
Your claim that they're "aping the design of Flukes" is unsupported. I haven't seen any evidence that Fluke invented that design or colour scheme, rather than it becoming a fairly common format for multimeters and then Fluke deciding to copyright the design.
A lot of older multimeters look like this: http://www.eevblog.com/forum/chat/show-your-multimeter!/540/ or something similar at least once handheld meters with multiple modes started to become an actual item. That whole thread is a decent cross section of multimeters, though it's skewed towards nice older meters as opposed to lower grade meters.
Essentially any multimeter design with a dark body and yellow or orange surround would look just as much like a Fluke multimeter - scroll down to Exhibit 1 in the PDF, they haven't exactly been consistent in the design of their multimeters. (Probably any design with a red surround too since some of Fluke's multimeters have those.)
Except the non-Fluke devices don't have FLUKE across the front of the device, nor across the back of the yellow case.
Most people glancing at it are going to see a multimeter, not a fluke. They would look for some kind of Fluke branding, and a yellow bezel with grey front plate is not that, for signs of flukeness.
Especially in the red sparkfun card it is pretty clear that these are not fluke. I find it hard to understand that anyone would think this is a fluke device with even cursory inspection.
Edit: your google images link is interesting. It shows some fluke devices being in red, not yellow, cases / bezels.
Removing the word fluke from the search terms returns many devices that are either all yellow, or all grey, with a few other colours, and some that are grey in a yellow case. Many of the grey and yellow devices are not fluke devices.
It'd be interesting to see how many devices were using dark grey in yellow before 2000.
I disagree. If Fluke is known by their color scheme, and they are known as a quality product, then they have a valuable reputation to protect. If a friend of mine gets the crappy $15 DMM that "looks just like" my $200 Fluke, then wonders why it isn't accurate, breaks after a couple of months, etc, then Fluke is the one who loses, not Sparkfun.
Have you looked at a Fluke next to the SF DMM? They don't look like Flukes. Flukes have a very thick border visible from the front in a very bright yellow. The SF on has a very thin visible orangey yellow border caused by the back shell. The faces aren't similar at all beyond a large dial and display. Very different designs.
On the other hand, there's strong evidence that Fluke is using excessive anti-competitive practices to manipulate multimeter prices. Evidence:
1) Multimeters can be made for $10 or $15, but Fluke continues to dominate the market with equivalent meters costing 10x more. And don't tell me that these basic multimeters incur significant R&D costs.
"Guilt should be determined in retrospect based on material gain." -- The gold standard for judging extremely powerful companies.
Multimeters can be made for $10 or $15, but Fluke continues to dominate the market with equivalent meters costing 10x more. And don't tell me that these basic multimeters incur significant R&D costs.
You've obviously never done any serious electrical or electronics work then. The reason they're so expensive is four reasons:
1. Mains and high voltage work. If you're working with high voltages or massively different potentials, Fluke actually design the boards and isolation circuitry properly. You're not going to get electrocuted by a Fluke meter. It doesn't even take a high voltage, just a bad earth to kill you. Cheap multimeters and even mid range ones tend to ignore this fact in favour of cost.
2. Explosion resistance. If you stick your cheap multimeter in resistance mode and whack ot across a 400v 30A supply its going to blow your hand off. No joke. Fluke - dead meter by design or absolutely nothing and it still carries on working.
3. Reliability. I have a 1989 Fluke 87 that cost me a small fortune. It works fine today, still handles calibration perfectly and is pin sharp and accurate. Other vendors fall to bits, drop out of calibration ranges and pack in completely. I know because I have three meters at any time and the only ones that survive are flukes.
4. They have lesser effect on the circuit you are measuring because the input stage is better designed.
So you're merely putting your life in the hands of a $10 meter.
My current fluke cost me £435 and it was worth every damn penny
Edit: adding some more as I'm not posting this from my phone now:
5. Cheap meters can't do true RMS measurements.
6. Cheap meters have probes without correct insulation.
7. Cheap meters have probes which fall to bits and expose the conductors.
8. Cheap meters have less probe/connection options which are required for more than just passive metering.
9. Cheap meters can't be calibrated at all by calibration services as there is nothing other than a single master voltage reference inside which is usually not a constant current or voltage source but a resistor/voltage divider across the reference voltage. This can drift as batteries drain for example.
10. Decent meters have a better count i.e. 0.00000 vs 0.00 on the displays.
I could go on forever at why a $10 meter is a joke.
As a consumer, I find it confusing when "cheap" (in both senses of the term) meters knock off the Fluke visuals.
My first Fluke multimeter was a hand-me-down from my father, and he had made it clear how it was a better instrument. At the time, there were no "Fluke yellow" instruments on the market. They were generally considered ugly.
Fast forward through the 1990s and I'm in a builders supply shop looking at meters. I grab what I thought was a Fluke, got home, and only then realised I had a cheap knockoff. Yes, my fault for not reading, but a large number of second generation tool users have been raised to invest in the products of a few companies that have maintained solid reputations.
>Multimeters can be made for $10 or $15, but Fluke continues to dominate the market with equivalent meters costing 10x more.
Depends what you mean "dominate the market", I guess: go to Amazon or Radio Shack, and most of the multimeters are the cheap and non-Fluke.
Also: Fluke does certainly charge a premium, but they are also not equivalent to the $10 meter. Fluke uses higher-quality (and thus more expensive) components, and it definitely costs them more than $15 to manufacture. This affects the actual electronics to the case to the probes to the buttons.
If you use your meter to measure your batteries and the occasional resistor, you probably don't care. But if you use the meter often, you may start to notice the difference, and that's why people are willing to pay that higher price--it really is worth it to some.
There's nothing particularly anti-competitive about not letting competitors use a particular easily identifiable color scheme associated with your product, largely because it has absolutely no functional impact on the product (and in any case, the product is not one where appearance is typically a factor in peoples' purchasing decisions).
The fact that Fluke can sell $150 multi-meters when they can be made for $15 is because of the substantial value people attach to branding. $100 Ralph Lauren jeans are made for $10 in Vietnam or wherever, and the only piece of that product protected by trademark is the little RL label (fashion designs cannot be protected). But that's all it takes.
If you open up the case on a Fluke and compare it with a cheaper one, you'll see there's significant differences in construction and design. This isn't because Fluke did it just to justify their higher cost - it's different because it needs to be, to give you safe operation, accurate results, and long life.
I've been through any number of cheap multimeters over the years and finally broke down and bought a Fluke. It's been absolutely solid. Worth it.
Yellow and black is probably the closest thing there is to a generic high-contrast colour scheme for multimeters though - everything is associated with one or more manufacturers. Agilent are orange and black, Bosch are green and black or green and dark green, and I think there are companies that could reasonably lay claim to red and blue. Meanwhile black and yellow have long been generic multimeter colours - since well before Fluke moved to their current scheme, I think.
"closest thing there is to a generic high-contrast colour scheme for multimeters"
Lets imagine the outcome of two theoretically unrelated possibilities:
1) For safety reasons someone (who?) has purchased an OSHA regulation which now requires that all electricians use high contrast yellow multimeters, yellow indicating their, uh, safety-ness or something.
2) Fluke has paid the .gov to be the only legal yellow multimeter supplier.
I know #2 is true. I suspect but have no evidence #1 is true.
What a pointless thing to enter into your widely connected information appliance. If you think it is true and has some merit as an idea, spend the couple minutes to actually inform us, alternatively just don't bother telling us what you think might be true.
This is not only unsubstantiated handwaving, but also totally illogical. Maintaining a trademark costs about $500 every ten years, and it doesn't cost that much more to file. So your #1 is made up, and your #2 is totally gutless.
that brings up another good point: what happens when there are (say) 8 different major manufacturers and no colors left?
Is it then impossible to sell a product because it would always interfere with someone else's color?
BTW, I agree with other EEs, the Sparkfun meter is not "really great high-quality" as they claim. It will suffice for hobby use, but Fluke's markup is based on having additional quality, not brand recognition.
1) You can't just apply to protect an arbitrary color. You need to show secondary meaning (i.e. the market associates the color in a certain context with your brand). It is unlikely for that to happen with more than one brand in a particular space.
2) The color can't be functional and can't affect the quality or value of the product. So Apple can't trademark aluminum-colored laptops, nor can you trademark yellow or orange traffic cones.
3) With respect to running out of colors, that issue is addressed on pages 168-169. The gist of the argument is that if people "use up" the high-contrast color schemes, than not being able to use some mark will put competitors at a functional disadvantage, which will invoke the functionality bar mentioned in (2), invalidating the other color marks.
If they are able to take higher price with only the brandname why shouldn't companies be allowed to do that?
Also maybe there are some other issues at play with precision, calibration and/or taking higher voltages/amperage? Or just not blowing up if you try to measure the wrong circuit with way too much power?
An $8.00 multimeter (including shipping) with a black body and yellow border.
I grew up using Fluke multimeters for electronic experimentations since my father loved them, but I'm really not liking Fluke right now. I think I'll switch over to another multimeter brand unless they work something out with SparkFun before this batch is destroyed.
To a moron in a hurry, it would look exactly like a Fluke product. This is exactly what trademarks are there to protect against, and Fluke is absolutely correct in their actions to protect their brand. This will likely blow up in Sparkfun's face, and rightly so.
Other manufacturers have their own colors. Orange would be an Agilent knock-off, red Amprobe, blue Metrix, green Gossen. Should you check to see if they have all copyrighted their color scheme - or only a market leader ?
Red especially is used by many companies for DMMs, it's a safe color. There's also different hues you can use, maybe burgundy, or even stripes. My point is, this color yellow is similar to Fluke yellow, and that's without proper lighting or color calibration.
Maybe if they went red or blue, some other company would come after them.
The issue is trademarking a very generic color/look. How many manufactures can exist without "Your red looks too much like mine, I'm suing you"
"Between bad and worse, we have to have them destroyed. Sorry Earth."
Sorry Earth indeed. Shit like this probably happens every minute of the day, and it probably cancels out everyone's cumulative efforts towards a more sustainable society. Destroying working products is a gratuitous waste that should be illegal, and that illegality should supersede any trademark law violation.
Why not order SparkFun to spray paint them black within a number of days instead?
> Yellow is awfully broad: In my mind, multimeters have always been yellow. I’ve never had the opportunity to own a Fluke-branded DMM so I’m not sure where my brain picked up this association. I can respect trademarks and company branding and I respect Fluke’s reputation for high-quality multimeters. If Fluke wants to own a color I would expect the USPTO to require them to assign an exact color just like Tiffany’s did with Tiffany Blue. But allowing a company to trademark ‘yellow’ seems broad.
This is the diagram in the trademark filing, describing what kind of yellow border is covered:
My current multimeter is blue. The previous one was yellow. It's predecessor was black.
In any case, the punishment seems a little harsh. They could probably arrive an arrangement where the yellow parts would be replaced by some other color and the multimeters could still be sold. Warning shots are acceptable practice.
That's pretty interesting to me because when I read the word "multimeters" in the title I instantly thought of a yellow device, even before I saw "contrasting yellow border." Fluke did a good job there and I think that in this case it's actually a pretty valid point.
Also - how long have Fluke been selling their yellow devices?
Hmm a fair point. Honestly, I always assumed that yellow was sort of an industry standard for multimeters so that they would be easily recognizable say in darker spaces where electricians may not have great lighting.
But you could still make a multimeter that isn't "Yellow border with dark-grey face". You could make an all-yellow device. Or invert the colors (yellow face grey bumper). Or use any other color for either the face or the bumper.
I sold Fluke meters from 1990-96. They were mostly dark grey with a yellow bumper, and the meter in this article looks like a Fluke. Interestingly, my 20 year old Fluke 73 (which still works great, second battery) is only grey with no yellow. I would have to think that within Sparkfun with its 100+ employees doing electronics that they had to know it looked like a Fluke.
They are expensive, but if you use a meter everyday you probably have one. Its a good tool. Mine has taken a lot of abuse.
And now we see that this isn't just a problem with software. Who knew?
e: Apparently everyone thinks I'm confusing a trademark with a copyright or a patent, but I'm not. We just got done with several weeks of people screaming their heads off about King's attempt to trademark the word "Candy".
In this thread, everyone is defending Fluke because this yellow outline is a distinguishing mark on their product, and these multimeters DO look like ripoffs. And you know what, I agree. But how is this any different from what everyone was up at arms about only a few weeks ago?
3) Trademarks benefit the end-users in a very direct manner. If I buy a specific brand that's labelled then I can feel fairly confident it is the correct product. (Unless the company has changed quality on the same branded product, like Pyrex or Thinkpad.)
Because that trademark is overly broad, and thanks to that fact was being used to bully creators of small, non-confusing products. The fact that people are opposed to overly broad trademarks employed for anticompetitive purposes is hardly shocking. That doesn't mean people view trademarks as a general "problem."
This story upset me for a moment. My first thought was "a ton of multimeters look like that." After doing google image search for a moment, I realized that all of the multimeters that I've used that looked like that have been Flukes or Chinese/Korean knockoffs of Flukes.
There's no reason to make the case yellow and the face grey other than to trade on an existing reputation for quality that Fluke has established. That's exactly why there are trademarks. Pick a different color: I suggest hot pink, or 2-tone checkerboard because I would buy that.
> Small business does not have the resources to stay abreast of all trademarks for all the products they don’t carry.
I agree that this sucks for Sparkfun, but at some point someone had to think these look a lot like Flukes' multimeters. If you ever find yourself thinking 'this product I'm about to import looks a LOT like $major_market_player's product' then take a second to look up their trademarks. You don't have to stay up to date on every trademark but at least do a cursory search before a big commitment..
What gets me is that the agent who inspected the packaging knew about this trademark. There must be a very large number of such trademarks and I doubt all the agents know all of them so for the agent who knew about this trademark to be the one who inspected the shipment seems like really bad luck.
As I read the article I wondered if the inspection was a result of a complaint on Fluke's part and as a result it was a case of justice by money and power?
More generally, I wonder how is it possible that inspectors are expected to deal with all the grey market goods that could be entering the border? Perhaps, a better example are children's toy jewellery which on numerous times have been found to have toxic levels of chemicals (eg. lead to levels high enough to send children into hospitals). Do the inspectors actually test for lead, or is their some sort of certification paper that is required?
What about those cheap electrical parts that you can buy (e.g. computer/iphone power adapters). I read a tear down report stating that these were unsafe because wiring not done to safety codes, so who is responsible for inspections before they enter the border?
The general case is complex, and I've never been able to read how the process is handled, so I assume given the quantity of products being imported they are often priced so cheap because they never go through the QA and safety standards that would be required if they were manufactured here. --Another example of pricing that doesn't factor in the total cost of the good, that is Chinese toys are cheaper than local because they aren't tested to our codes thereby avoiding whole cost structures that local companies incur resulting in cheaper products yet overall they are more expensive to society because 1% of buyers end up in the hospital and incurring those costs.
There is a really interesting NPR "Planet Money" podcast where they talk to customs folks about the import process. (They were tracing the supply chain for a t-shirt) Customs agents have lots of obscure knowledge about these things.
It's not just the fact that it's yellow, but it's also shaped just like a Fluke. A quick search on multimeters shows various alternative shapes that Sparkfun could have chosen to distinguish themselves. Fluke is correct in protecting their brand, in this case.
Colors in trademarks are tricky. I would argue that the colors of a tool or measurement device serve a functional purpose, namely visibility and outline recognition in low-light conditions, so if I were judging this trademark, I'd ask a few questions:
- Is the yellow used by the competitor distinguishable by the human eye from the yellow used by Fluke?
- Is the yellow used by Fluke distinct from colors commonly used on similar items to improve visibility, or a color not commonly available in the source materials for similar products?
If Fluke buys off-the-shelf plastic pellets, with the same colors used by everyone who makes colored plastic things, they can hardly complain when natural, functional choices in product design replicate their claimed color mark.
If they claimed a very specific, non-standard yellow, like rgb(197,247,45), and a specific contrast color, like rgb(0,53,117), I'd defend it in a heartbeat. But let's be honest. If you sell plastic pellets in bulk, and you could only stock 6 colors, they would be transparent, white, black, cyan, magenta, and yellow. At minimum, the customer could melt and mix a specific color within a reasonable gamut. Claiming 2 of those primary pigment colors as trademarked so no one else could use them without significant additional expense is a bit ridiculous.
But the wheels of justice have many irregularly shaped cams and cogs, so my common sense approach almost certainly would not have merit in any actual courtroom.
Nick is misrepresenting himself somewhat. The letter from Customs mentions 250 units, not 2000. Also, his $30K "loss" is a gross sales loss ($15 retail price * 2000), not Sparkfun's actual loss, which I'd imagine is substantially less.
Everyone seems to be directing their hate at Fluke, which was not at all related in this. People seem to believe that Fluke sued/did something to cause this specific shipment to be seized, when this doesn't seem to be the case.
They applied for a trademark on this, and got it. Now CBP is enforcing the trademark. CBP certainly doesn't ask Fluke before seizing a shipment. The issue here should be the trademark process, not Fluke.
Just as an object can have many references in typical programming languages, it is the case that an entity can have many different names in the “tradespace” and you don’t always get to decide what name consumers decide to use.
Let us take it as a given that within this particular tradespace, “contrasting yellow border” and “Fluke” just happen to be to references for the same thing, in this case a brand. But that also means that the brand can be damaged through either reference, so it’s incumbent upon the company that depends on that brand to guard those references to the brand.
Everyone is viewing this as a cloud, but I think, in spite of the costs and legal headaches, Sparkfun has a great opportunity for a silver lining lying right in front of them.
Call it "The Sparkfun Multimeter Casing Challenge". Mention their existing industrial design issues. Call on their users (more than a few of which have a 3D printing background) to design a multimeter housing that's unique, and reflects their brand. If they could wangle it, they could even yank out their DMM circuitry from the import-restricted DMMs and send the guts to the contest entrants to make working prototypes.
That would be a great way to get design done for free by people excited about the Sparkfun brand.
Yes, but their brand is getting a hell of a beating because of this right now. I own Fluke and now I'm thinking of switching because of their stupidity. People that buy a Fluke product buy it not only because it's yellow, but because they have a good reputation as the workhorse multi-meter.
I agree that they should protect their trademark, but destroying the product is not the way to go. They could allow SparkFun to donate the multimeters.
I would agree that you can trademark an appearance but yellow is not any kind of identifiable color. This in my mind would make a trademark too vague to hold up in court. But my mind != stupid US government agency. I wonder if you can trademark objects with colors outside human vision. "I'm sorry sir your multimeters glow in the ultraviolet and we own that trademark."
It is also unreasonable that there is no option once seized to have it ship to a country other than the origin. After all it may very well be legal in Canada or Poland or somewhere.
From what I remember from a previous case like this you could do a consumer survey and show that no one thinks that yellow multimeters are made by Fluke. It was something along the lines of protecting a trademark, and a trademark stops being a trademark if it gets too diluted.
For instance, show the MCD golden arcs to consumers that eat a lot of western fast food and they will all say, MCD. So get a bunch of electrical people who have worked with a number of multimeters and ask them what brand a yellow multimeter is :D
And if you show a bunch of electrical engineers a multimeter with a grey face and a yellow border, they'll tell you it's a Fluke. Sparkfun will lose that survey, because their knockoff multimeters appear to be designed specifically to look like Flukes.
Fluke multimeters really are the best I've ever used. Similarly, Weller soldering stations are the best I've used, and I'd expect them to protect their signature blue case/black front design.
When i lived in China i found a "Fruke" brand multimeter in the weird back room of a large grocery store where i was shopping. I almost bought the meter for posterity. It looked just like a Fluke... in that it was yellow and grey. #truestory
Seems like switching from yellow to red still leaves them open to law suite. They'll be less likely to lose the suite, but I don't think the court will throw it out based upon the trademark wording. Just make it black.
I'm sure it'd be less than $15 dollars a piece. Hire someone to unpack them at $8/hr, someone to paint them at $8/hr, and someone to bag them at $8/hr, and I'd bet you could go through 30+ an hour, which would come out to $0.80/pop for labor. Plus transport and paint. Sure, it costs them, but keep in mind they don't have to make profit, they just have to make back more than the cost of a total loss for it to be worth it. Selling every single one for a few dollars loss should be better than losing them all for a more $$$ loss...