Kickstart or Kill

Fab Finds Itself in the Middle of a Kickstarter Ripoff Mess [UPDATED]

Authenticity, it turns out, isn't always as simple as it seems.
screen shot 2012 08 24 at 1 38 05 pm Fab Finds Itself in the Middle of a Kickstarter Ripoff Mess [UPDATED]

The Kickstarted pen.

Those of you in the throes of a flash sale addiction might’ve noted a snazzy little pen that popped up on Fab.com yesterday. However, it might have looked a little familiar. The design blog Notcot points out that the Torr Pen, with its distinctive ruler sleeve, looked an awful lot like the Pen Type-A, an overfunded Kickstarter project that’s faced many a manufacturing-related trial over the last year.

Fab, it turns out, did not find this fabulous. The sale has been yanked from the site. 

Notcot said:

Yesterday, Fab.com led me to their sale of Torr Pens, which initially simply looked like a strange rip off of the insanely successful Pen Type-A Kickstarter project. Simple enough, things get ripped off – but usually the design rip offs don’t end up circulating in areas that claim to focus on authenticity and great design.

But where this got even crazier is that Torr Pens’ website and the fab page had pictures and a James Bond parody video of the same guy who organized the manufacturing of and spent late nights washing, smelling, drying, and reassembling the Pen Type-A’s with the kickstarter designers CW&T.

The Pen Type-A team posted an update to their Kickstarter campaign to address the matter:

Just to be clear, we are not affiliated with those pens in any way, except that we immediately recognized Allen from the images on their site. He is the US half of the two person duo we hired to manufacture the pens in China. (He hugged us when we last saw him!)

UPDATED:  On the other hand, Torr Pens CEO Allen Arseneau flatly denies the accusations. He reached out to Betabeat with a statement that outlined the differences between the two products (different ink; the inclusion of spacer capsule), as well as the following remarks:

It’s important to understand that Torr Classic is based on the 1979 surgical pen patent, as is evident from the illustration. There has been no patent, trademark, or copyright infringement, no violation of trade secrets, and no breach of contract involved in the design, launch, and marketing of Torr products.

Allen and Diana have poured their time, talent and funds over the past several months into the design,  engineering, manufacture, and marketing of these first products, and are proud of the result. We don’t  want to be compared to other pens, whether Pen Type A, or any of the countless pen ideas currently on  Kickstarter or similar sites. We think Torr can succeed on its own merits as a cool and elegant men’s gift,  with a retro twist.

In a follow-up phone conversation, Mr. Arseneau and his partner and cofounder Diana Hudak sounded surprised by the harsh response to their product, saying they’ve even received threatening phone calls and emails in the wake of the controversy. The pair emphasized that their product is a high-end gift for men, rather than the “minimal” pen pitched by Pen Type A. Nor does Torr’s pen even take the Hi-Tec-C ink that Pen Type A was built around. Asked what he’d tell people about the difference between the two products, Mr. Arseneau said, “We would ask people to hold the pen.”

“I realize in hindsight that when you put the Torr Classic next to their pen with everything else removed, that they look similar,” he said, adding, “Everything about the pen is different. Our pen, it’s long and its weighted so when you hold it, it’s very very comfortable.”

For their part, Fab has removed the sale and washed their hands of the whole business until the warring parties straighten out their conflict. The company told Betabeat:

As you may be aware, we have a no ‘knock off’ policy at Fab. We take claims like this very seriously. The sale was removed from our site yesterday morning.

Emphasis Fab’s. The statement continues:

Upon learning of this issue on Wednesday, we immediately contacted both Torr and CW&T and from what we’ve been told and understand, this is not a knock off situation, but rather a dispute between two parties that previously had a business partnership. At the time that we commissioned the sale with Torr, we were not aware of the backstory.

We love the pen and its design and will gladly sell one or both products once they resolve their differences.  But in the meantime, we don’t feel it’s our place to get in the middle of a disagreement between designers, so we have pulled the sale.

The company concluded: “We look forward to hearing back from Torr and CW&T once they come to an amicable resolution.”

Incidentally, preventing design ripoffs is exactly why Willy Wonka staffed his factory with Oompa Loompas.

Follow Kelly Faircloth on Twitter or via RSS. kfaircloth@observer.com