When Dan Brown saw his son struggling to fix a lawnmower nearly a decade ago, he had an idea. He would invent a tool that could make the repair easier.
Brown's brainstorm was the Bionic Wrench, which he began manufacturing at a factory in Pennsylvania.
The Bionic Wrench has subsequently become a popular Christmas gift. Sears was so impressed that it brokered an exclusive agreement with Brown and his company, LoggerHead Tools.
This was a win for Brown, his American-made product, and his dedicated staff.
But now the story has changed. As Shaila Dewan reports in the New York Times, competition from China has entered the picture:
The Bionic Wrench was greeted with enthusiasm at trade shows and in industrial design competitions, and the company survived the downturn in 2008. Mr. Brown resisted overtures from large chain stores that wanted to sell the tool under their proprietary brand, he said, and rejected the lure of cheaper manufacturing in China. ‘I was raised a different way,’ he said.
Unfortunately, Brown recently learned that Sears would not renew its inventory of the Bionic Wrench for Christmas 2012, as had been expected.
Why? It seems Sears, under the banner of its Craftsman tools line, has produced a very similar product called the Max Access wrench. The Sears tool is made in China and sells at a discounted price.
Due to this lost business, Brown has already laid off 31 workers. While he holds a patent on the product and intends to file a suit against Sears, such litigation could go on for years, meaning much uncertainty ahead for Brown and his company.
Dewan reports that this is not the first time a manufacturer has accused Sears of stealing trade secrets or infringing on patents. Quite the contrary, Sears has actually wracked up a number of such cases, which has resulted in some very large payouts.
The Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) applauds Brown for his innovation and commitment to manufacturing a quality product in the U.S. His story is emblematic of the battle to revitalize America's manufacturing sector, and will be watched closely.
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