The True Cost of Knockoffs

As an overlander, I am always surprised to see knockoff products bolted to the side of a vehicle that is destined for the backcountry. That small amount of money the purchaser saved might ultimately leave them stranded and cost the industry they love dearly. Per the 2018 report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the global counterfeit business represents as much as $461 billion in lost revenue to the original intellectual property owners. In our market, it is not just blatant infractions, but also companies that push the infringement right to the edge to avoid lawsuits.

At Overland Journal, some of our primary concerns are the safety of our readers and the overall health of the overland community. There are a shocking number of safety or recovery products that are copied on a regular basis, but without the due diligence and testing required to ensure performance and durability. One of the more glaring categories is the traction board segment, where companies have outright stolen designs or made a veiled attempt at revision. I have seen products like that crack and fail in the field under travelers’ vehicles time and again. In the case of recovery gear, it is essential to know the product’s source and only purchase from reputable resellers. That $199 winch may seem like a great bargain at the time, but it will likely fail the owner when called upon. We also see it with cooler companies, the most egregious knockoffs being companies like RTIC making products nearly identical to Yeti’s, then proudly touting their lower cost as an advantage.

The other significant cost of knockoffs is the loss of invention. As counterfeits come to market more quickly, this gives the innovator less opportunity to recoup research and design costs that the thief never needed to pay for. It also reduces available R&D funding for cutting-edge companies, and we suffer yet again as consumers. Of course a knockoff is cheaper, as the company never paid for the cost of designing and testing the product, and those lapses in experience and testing always show up once used in the field. It is the responsibility of the consumer to do their best not to support this blatant form of theft. Even as a media company, we have been taken advantage of by other entities stealing our intellectual property (most often images) without permission or even attribution. In the end, we all have the responsibility to avoid purchasing products that are a copy of the original, for obvious ethical reasons, but also because of the true cost of a knockoff failing in the field: serious injury to yourself or others—or a very costly tow bill if you are lucky.

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Scott is the publisher and co-founder of Expedition Portal and Overland Journal. His travels by 4WD and adventure motorcycle span all seven continents and include three circumnavigations of the globe. His polar travels include two vehicle crossings of Antarctica and the first long-axis crossing of Greenland. He lives in Prescott, Arizona