Your June 13 "Emphasis on Automotive Parts" section's lead story, "Attack of the Clones" about counterfeit auto parts presents just the tip of a very large "iceberg." There's a lot more at risk than patent or trademark infringement.
"Clones" come in a wide range of varieties in a wide range of industries.
Some are technically and functionally equal copies of the original partùthese are a minority.
Some are merely low-cost visual copies of the original part.
Clones are a problem because they are most often a low-cost product and unfortunately you get what you pay for.
Clones will appear as a part in equipment that has been on the market successfully for years. However, the lure of low-cost parts has allowed clones to be assembled into the equipment and failures start to happen.
This usually is the result of inadequate definitions of the part when a lower-cost source is contacted. There are many properties that are necessary to produce a good rubber, latex or plastic part. All those must be defined to ensure that the lower-cost clone does the job as the original part has been doing for years. Beyond property definition, it is necessary to specify test methods and frequently it is necessary to define production conditions and quality control procedures and limits. Aging analysis and in-use testing also help.
All too often the purchaser says "can you make parts like this sample?" He will likely get a "look alike." However, there's no easy way to ensure that this "look alike" will perform as the original.
A good example of this is the latex medical glove allergy/dermatitis problem. Manufacturers in the U.S. and Europe had been making these gloves for years. They had found that they had to wash the gloves after dipping and/or curing to remove the accelerator residues. If that was not done, the gloves discolored and had poor shelf life. That washing also removed the natural rubber latex proteins. Because of this there was no perceived allergy/dermatitis problem.
However, when medical gloves became a quickly used disposable product and manufacturing moved to Asia, it was assumed washing was no longer required. Allergy/dermatitis problems resulted.
This is an example of a low-cost clone not having the same properties as the original product. The same situation can occur with any rubber, latex or plastic product if all needed properties and all quality issues are not defined.
Harry F. Bader, vice president, latex services, Akron Rubber Development Laboratory Inc., Akron