J.C. Bamford Excavators Ltd. is having a busy year, but not necessarily in terms of equipment sales. As the U.K.-based manufacturer ramps up for what is expected to be a stronger economy next year, it has been busy litigating Chinese companies for allegedly copying the design of its earthmoving machines.
The company also is trying hard to say as little as possible about the incidents because it has signed a confidentiality agreement as part of a recent settlement, ENR has learned.
J.C. Bamford Excavators Ltd. (JBC), Staffordshire, England, settled out of court in October with an undisclosed Asian manufacturer, arguing that the defendant had copied the design of JCB’s model 3CX backhoe-loader.
The 3CX is the most popular of JCB’s backhoe-loaders, analysts say. It is the offspring of Europe’s first machine of that kind—a tractor with a bucket in front and a digger in back—that JCB conceived in 1953.
“This is the fourth incident this year of an Asian manufacturer copying one of our machines and taking unfair advantage of 57 years of product development,” says Tim Burnhope, JCB’s group managing director, in a statement. “JCB is determined to act promptly and decisively in relation to such activities and stamp them out.”
In addition to handing JCB an undisclosed cash payment, the alleged copycat “has agreed to fundamentally redesign its backhoe-loader,” says JCB. That is as far as JCB will go to detail the matter.
The stakes are growing higher for intellectual-property enforcement as more foreign manufacturers enter the global marketplace. Counterfeits and copycats are expanding internationally along with legitimate producers. But the trend of established players taking legal action against infringements is hardly new.
“Every time we’ve had a wave of new companies entering on a global basis, it’s happened,” says Frank Manfredi, a heavy-equipment analyst in Mundelein, Ill. “First it was the Japanese, then the Koreans. Now, it’s the Chinese.”
Established players and new ones alike have much to gain. JCB claims to own 40% of the world’s backhoe-loader market. Although the British company saw sales drop by a third last year, it expects improved economic conditions next year and is spending roughly $30 million to update its popular 3CX.
Earlier this year, JCB’s lawyers in Germany secured temporary injunctions against three Asian manufacturers that were displaying allegedly copied JCB backhoe-loaders and telescopic handlers at the Bauma trade show, held on April 19-25 in Munich. One industry source, who spoke to ENR on the condition of anonymity, says all three cases were against Chinese companies. JCB has declined to name them.
JCB’s own statements regarding the recent settlement offer conflicting accounts of what has transpired in the past six months. In a statement issued from the U.K., the company says that, after “court actions that JCB … undertook against three Asian manufacturers at the Bauma show,” the company reached a settlement related to a fourth instance.
However, a statement issued in the U.S. says the settlement is “the result of court actions … against three Asian manufacturers at the Bauma show.”
So, which is it? Did the settlement result from the Bauma legal action, or was it a separate incident?
According to Nigel Chell, JCB’s spokesman, the recent case is not related to the Bauma injunctions. “They are not connected,” he told ENR in a recent phone interview.
Karen Guinn, JCB’s spokeswoman in the States, confirms that statement,...