Thursday, November 28, 2013

You Decide

This article is a little different than the normal article.  I am doing a bit of investigation here, hopefully it is helpful.  All of the information in this piece is public information or information sent to me and used with permission.  I honestly don't know how this will go over or who is right.  I am looking for input from you folks and I want to make sure that the trust you place in me is earned.  I am not playing favorites for anyone, except you the reader.  With that said, here goes.  

After review of the TT PockeTTool 69, a few comments pointed out the similarity between the TT PockeTTool 69 and the Bottle Grenade, a OPMT sold via Kickstarter.  I promised readers I would do some digging and then present what I found.  This article is a summary of that.  In preparation, I contacted both TT PockeTTool and the maker of the Bottle Grenade, Brad, for responses.

Up front I will tell you that TT PockeTTools has been very good the site.  He sends stuff for review and is a genuinely nice guy.  I like him and I like his designs (especially the Chopper), a lot.  But my loyalty is and always will be with you folks, the readers.  If required, I'll burn every bridge I have worked hard to build with folks in the gear industry to preserve the reliance and trust you place on my reviews and opinions.  I don't do this for a profit at all.  It is about getting good information out there.  If that means that a gear maker or company that is friendly to me is no longer friendly, then so be it.  I have been threatened by companies (like: "we won't support you"; not anything bad) after bad reviews before.  I am still here.  I don't do this for a profit, so threatening to take the site away from me or trying to shut it down is like trying to steal from a Buddhist monk--they have nothing to take and anything they do have, they give away.  I am giving away for free all of this information and all of the gear samples I get for review on this site and I have very little other than time invested here.  My goal is not to make money, but to have fun and get some information out there.

Know that I did not consider this post lightly.  I talked to a lot of people before I wrote and posted this.  But ultimately, if there is a question of concern the readers of this site have, it is also a question I have.  I am going to lay out all of the cards, everything, and then you decide.  

One thing though before I lay everything out.  I am kind of worried this was not a geniune controversy, but a ploy for free advertising.  The comments were anonymous and I have no way of tracking them.  Keep that in mind while reading, especially when you get to the section "other stuff."  If I find out that is the case (how, I have no idea), I will let you know.

TT gave me permission to post his email response (which is below, in full).  Brad contacted me over my Twitter feed and since that is public, I will assume he has no objection to me posting what is already out there.  

The Two Devices

TT PockeTTool 69:

P1000810

Bottle Grenade:


The Makers' Responses

TT PockeTTools:

Hi Tony,

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to show that the TT-69 and the Grenade are not similar at all.

Late today I received an email from someone who maybe the owner of the Grenade.  The email was unprofessional which is why I didn't respond.  Until receiving this email, I was not aware of this product being on the market.  I had not even heard of kickstarter or visited their site until after I designed the TT-69.

The TT-69 is a bottle opener and key chain dangler.  It encompasses none of the other specifics that the Grenade has. 
Comparing the TT-69 and the Grenade, it is not that similar at all.

The TT-69 was designed as a number "6" with 9 holes.  The Grenade design resembles, I suppose, a grenade.   The TT-69 was designed to hold keys, hang on your belt loop and open bottles. The TT-69 has a single short hook to latch to the belt loop (not a long one).  There are many other multitools in the industry with a similar hook like the Grenade.  The TT-69 also has a lanyard hole on top which the Grenade does not.  There is a totally different "pry" off bottle opener style (there are no pop off elements on the TT-69 like on the Grenade).  The TT-69 has nine of the same size holes the Grenade has different size holes plus hexes.  The picture below shows a similar pop off style like the Grenade.

I don't see how its even being compared or complained about. They are two completely different tools.

For example, is the maker to the Grenade ripping off this product? It has the same exact design of bottle opening. 





Or perhaps the parachute multitool which has similar features and looks the same as the Grenade except its not a circle. Does that mean the Grenade copied the Parachute design?





 Lastly, its very unprofessional to make false statements about a company when the products are not the same.

Thanks Tony for your time. I appreciate all that you do.

Brad:

I'd like to know his name.  I think he may have backed me and see my early prototype, looked just like his.

Here is my argument--Bottle Grenade--the last opener you will ever need. by Brad.

I then asked TT PockeTTools about this and he wrote back saying that he had not heard of Kickstarter and that he wasn't a backer.  Note that Brad again linked to his KS project page in the tweets and there was a link to his KS page in the comments.

Here is a piece about the similarity of designs of multitools.  Here is another.

What all of this means, again, I leave up to you.

Other Stuff

When TT PockeTTools started he got in trouble on EDCF for shill posting, that is claiming he was  buyer interested in a goods instead of a seller of those goods.  That's not cool.  I did not know about this prior to accepting review samples.  Now that I know this, however, I would have still accepted those samples for review.  First, nothing he did was illegal.  Folks shill stuff all of the time--its called advertising.  Do you really think the models on soda commercials love the soda?  They are shilling.  But doing this in a forum is worse because this community is small and based on honesty.  Shill posting isn't honest.  I am willing to give TT PockeTTools a second chance because: 1) he came clean and made amends right away; 2) he has done nothing since then, to my knowledge; and 3) he is hardly the first person in the gear world to make a mistake.  

Brad is not free of controversy either.  Perhaps you noticed a while ago that I had to amend my review policy to address requests I got for shill tweets and posts.  He is the reason why.  He asked for a tweet, then when I asked for a review sample, I got radio silence.  I didn't bother to make that public when it happened because, well, who cares?  Its not exactly news to tell people I DIDN'T get a review sample.  So I ignored it.  A lot of stuff happens like this, you'd be surprised.  The bottom line is I tweet out stuff on KS that I find interesting.  I do it without being asked, but I refuse to just turn the Twitter account or this site into a complex ad.  Additionally, the comments section of the TT PockeTTool 69 and the tweets Bottle Grenade sent aren't the first time Brad has claimed something is a ripoff, then posted a link to his stuff, as a way of getting free advertising.  Again, note the anonymous comments section posts in the 69 review.  Here is the link to the Multitool.org thread where he is admonished for doing the same thing (http://forum.multitool.org/keychain-one-piece-tools/new-flat-tool-from-stagejunk/). 

But bear in mind that there is a lot of "misdeeds" out there in the gear industry.  By in large, I think this the natural extension of a business where there is a lot of money floating around, vague notions of intellectual property (and until recently, zero patent protections), and, frankly, inexperienced business people.  

There is pretty substantial evidence that Mick Strider faked being in the military (or at least what he did while in the service) and got in real legal trouble for other things.  I am not someone's judge and as long as they offenses aren't SO bad (rape, murder) I can overlook them and focus on the gear.  Similarly, digging around and doing research on Bark River Knife and Tool led me to some information about the founder of that company, Mike Stewart.  The information is much less solid than the stuff on Strider, but again there appears to be legal problems.  This is a business and people get pissed off when money is at stake.  Additionally, this is a business where lots and lots of people got started making WEAPONS.  It would be unusual for the opposite to exist--everyone making gear is a bunch of angels.  Then there is the case of Microtech and ZT.  It seems clear to me that what happened there was not exactly honest either, but again, I am not a judge.  Gear is good=move on (absent, again, something very serious).  I am writing about gear, not the people that make it.

I am not condoning or approving any of these things.  I am simply taking the position that I am not the person to publicly decide what should happen.  So many of the problems in our country today stem from people trying to tell others what to do and think.  I am not going to contribute to that.  I'll give you the facts, you make up your own mind, and do what you want.  I would mention the Microtech thing in any review of their products, as I did with Strider's history in the review of the PT, but so far as I am concerned, I am going to just take that information into consideration and move on.  I want you to know about it so you can decide what you think is appropriate.  I am not in the business of trying to hunt people down.  No use crucifying someone.  I have more important things to do.  If you feel like doing so, great.  I'm just not going to get into it.

There is one exception to this rule and that is the case of counterfeits.  I would probably review the San Ren Mu 705 and note that it was a clone of a Sebenza, same blade shape, same handle shape, etc.  But I would not review a "Kevin Johns" Sebenza.  That maker is producing a clone and selling it as the original.  I am interested in supporting the people that put their time and energy into making good stuff.  Counterfeiting does the opposite of that.  And counterfeiting IS a crime.  Even if Brad is right, again something you have to decide, this is not a case of counterfeiting.  

Conclusion

I have no dog in this fight.  I have reviewed TT's stuff in the past.  He is a good guy to me.  His stuff is well made.  Other this little blow up, I have had no dealings with Brad.  Not because I haven't tried, though.  But this is about what you think.  I promised to look into the issue and I did.  You decide what you think should happen.  Comment in the posts below, but keep it civil.  My rule has been to never delete a comment for any reason, even if they personally attacked me (see the Cryo review), but in this one instance, I am going to make an exception.  If the comments get out of hand, I will take them down.  

29 comments:

  1. They look similar, but then, there's tons of gear that you could say was copied from someone else.

    (Looking forward to the mini CQC-7 review, btw...)

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  2. I'm a big fan copyright/patent protections and I don't think TT ripped anything off here.

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  3. I don't really see that much similarity.

    My view is that there are so many options in the gear world that people can choose to deal with whoever they want. I will never buy anything associated with Microtech, Strider and Darrel Ralph/HTM. I'm not missing anything by doing so but I'm not going to tell people not to buy it. I'll tell people why I have an issue with those people and let them make their own decisions.

    I appreciate the article and informing your readership so they can make their own informed decisions. That's why I like this site.

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  4. They don't seem all that similar except that they're both bottle openers with adornments. I had a keychain/bottle opener called a "church key" 20 yrs ago (I'm old) that was 90% the look and functionality of both these. Don't know or use either product but I'm guessing making a ruckus on forums and comments is an excellent way to drum up publicity without having to spend any money.

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  5. Seems like Brad just got some of the best free advertising he could have hoped for here. I wouldn't have known about him and his product otherwise. Could entertaining this debate on your blog be encouraging his advertising (mal)practice Tony?

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  6. I'm not buying into this whole OPMT craze, so I don't really care if Atwood sues the whole scene for stealing his original (?) concept and ideas. (BTW I don't see why one would need an OPMT when they can get an Alox Cadet for the same or less...). This is a non-issue.
    What I would care about though, is the XM-18 vs PT vs Seb shootout. ;-) I'm not hurrying you or anything, but is it finished yet?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Probably around Christmas time. Better late than wrong.

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    2. True. And it won't be easy to do that right.

      Delete
  7. Hi Tony,

    I think you did right by reporting the whole thing to the public without placing yourself on either side.

    On the other hand Adam may be right with his comment above: This article was some kind of advertising for both of these products. And, let me add this, the article could be misused as some kind of additional ammunition for those people who don't like either of the two toolmakers mentioned above.

    But then, this is not your fault. That's in the hands of those using everything they can for their arguments.

    Keep up the good work, I really like your style of review, your opinions and your podcast,too.

    Kind regards,
    Michael

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  8. Prior to this article, I'd not seen any of Brad's claims about the 69 but had read the 69 review here.

    I will say that Brad's rebuttals just seem suspect to me. "Here is my argument--bottle grenade--the last opener you will ever need." That is not an argument. It is a sales pitch that i think he knew lots of people would see. Instead of providing feedback and detailed descriptions on design like TT did, brad just makes accusations and throws out links to his product. My gut tells me Brad is making use of the controversy to hopefully get some sales.

    Full disclosure, I wanted to buy a Chopper after reading the review of it here, but since TT is out of stock I purchased a Brewzer for my keychain. I am not some TT fanboy and I have no interest in either the Grenade or 69 because the design and function are not what I want. I am also not bothered by the fact that both tools look similar - how many ways are you going to make a twist off opener?

    The who copied who debate is just silly to me, like saying that every modern smartphone is a blatant copy of the iPhone. Maybe someone did copy someone here, or maybe two similar ideas came to be at roughly the same time. We'll probably never know the truth, which incidentally has nothing to do with how well one or both of these tools might work for you.

    Thanks for sharing all of this info, Tony. I appreciate the unbiased presentation of facts as you and them. Not easy to find responsible, untainted reviews these days, which is why your site is at the top of my bookmark list. Keep up the GREAT work.

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  9. Tony,

    I think you are established enough as an online reviewer that you no longer need to offer a disclaimer whenever it seems you may step on someone's toes in one of your commentaries. I agree that the personal or even business histories of the companies whose products are being reviewed are of little concern to the average consumer--that is, unless there is fraud that could directly affect them. I would say that is to some extent the responsibility of online EDC reviewers to delve into some behind the scene matters and in the case of this website there is little danger of these political issues overwhelming the primary content of this site. The more important issue that the reader can walk away with from the above article is the issue of derivation of products an issue discussed about mainstream technology such as Malcolm Gladwell's piece on Steve Jobs. Keep up the good work.

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  10. Much ado about nothing; different enough products IMHO. And also agree that Brad is using this "argument" simply to pitch his procuct, but whatever.

    The product I really want from TTPocketTools is the TT Chopper...can't wait for them to be available, darnit. TTPocketTools is losing money by not increasing production...just saying...

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    Replies
    1. Agree with David.

      PS: Here is my argument--Mr. Snuffleupagus--the last imaginary friend you will ever need.--by Anon R.D.

      Delete
  11. The knurled opener isn't anything new, and certainly nothing that either could claim as a truly original idea, so in that sense you're probably right that it was a cry for free publicity on Brad's part. However I will say that giving so much real estate to an opener for twist-off beer bottles seems like a waste of space to me personally, a hand does just fine if you're drinking that kind of beer.

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  12. Hi Tony,

    Looks like both makers got some free marketing on this one. To say they're the same product is like saying Spyderco ripped off benchmade for a folding cutting instrument.

    Always enjoy your review of products but behind the industry scuttlebutt takes up bandwidth that IMHO is better allocated for all the other gear that can still be reviewed. Thanks for all you do.

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  13. Brad seems like a real piece of work - besides a twist-off design that clips to a belt (which TT is quite right in saying has been done many times before) they don't look the same at all. They don't even have the same functions! His response and faux-litigious attitude comes across as petulant and ridiculous.

    It's also worth noting that Brad doesn't even manufacture the grenades himself - he made a design and prototype and contracted the work through Cybernetic Research Labs out of the southwest. TT on the other hand is a toolmaker and machinist. I've bought TT for over a year and have always gotten great service and extremely fast shipping - not bad for what's pretty much a one-man operation.

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  14. Nothing to see here; let's move on.

    You could just as easily say that all spoon manufacturers ripped each other off.

    Prefer to see you reviewing gear than playing Oprah.

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    Replies
    1. Me too.

      But to make sure, want me to stop the giving-cool-stuff-away Oprah or the mediating-disputes-Oprah?

      I am glad I did this, but I think the responses are pretty clear and unified.

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    2. I think this was a good exercise; reinforces the integrity of your web site and the integrity of TTPockettools. Win-win in my opinion...

      Delete
  15. I have no interest in, nor back this Kickstarter Project: http://goo.gl/fQOIJm

    Not really a unique idea here. You can modify this basic design numerous ways. Just like any other piece of gear: knives, flashlights, jackets, pants, shoes -- etc.

    Sheesh!

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