Sun, May 16, 2004 - Page 11 News List

Wooden matches ignite a trade battle over IPR protection

MATCH-MAKING The leading match producers in Europe says Pakistani and Chinese competitors are copying their most famous logos and boxes

DPA , SUSICE, CZECH REPUBLIC

The humble wooden match has ignited a battle between one of Europe's leading match manu-facturers and competitors in Asia.

Officials with Czech-based Solo Sikarna company, which boasts an annual production of "20 billion flames," claim competing match makers in China and Pakistan are stoking the fire by selling knock-off matchboxes to its customers in countries around the world.

Solo sales director Veroslav Puchinger says the "counterfeiters" are selling poor quality matches in boxes stamped with imitations of the company's century-old brand names and logos.

The competitors, which Solo declined to identify, are threatening a 165-year-old business started by a Czech carpenter and his investor friend from Vienna.

According to the Solo company's history, carpenter Vojtech Scheinost was making matches by hand in a Czech village 16 years before Sweden's Johan Lundstrom obtained the first patent for matchsticks in 1855. His friend Bernard Furth provided funds to build a factory.

Solo officials recently called a news conference to publicize the company's plight, hoping Czech media would generate sympathy in their homeland. Solo is a major employer in the small town of Susice, near the Czech-Austrian border.

Puchinger said Chinese and Pakistani companies are competing unfairly and have already hurt sales in Turkey, Ethiopia and Israel.

They succeed by undercutting Solo's prices with lookalike matchboxes.

"A definite share of our Israeli market has been affected, for example," he said.

Solo is in trouble because, unlike multinational corporations that face similar challenges from knock-offs, the small company cannot afford to defend itself in various national courts.

Solo's brands are protected by registered trademarks, but the company says defending those trademarks against unfair trade is too costly and time-consuming.

Match-making simply cannot generate the cash needed to support a team of international lawyers.

Solo sells about 400 million matchboxes a year, exporting more than 70 percent of its products worldwide and controlling 80 percent of the Czech market.

Nevertheless, last year's sales totalled just 180 million koruna (US$6.6 million) hardly enough to win overseas trademark battles.

Following an old tradition, Solo sells aspen-wood safety matches with 19th century matchbox designs under names such as "The Key," "The Two Eggs" and "The Posthorn."

In recent years, Solo has diversified its product line to include plastic cigarette lighters. But wooden sticks and boxes are still at the heart of the business that Puchinger said is now fighting for survival.

This story has been viewed 3133 times.

Comments will be moderated. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned.

TOP top