Happy holidays – Adafruit receives a letter from lawyers representing Velleman
Nothing rings in the holidays like a certified letter from lawyers it seems – we received a letter from lawyers apparently representing Velleman (they are a long time kit maker that many of us have fond memories of). Walker Law Firm sent us this letter (part 1, part 2, part 3) stating that we:
“…utilized a circle with a slash superimposed over a picture of an electronic blinking Christmas tree which is a product offer by Velleman Components NV and it’s subsidiary entities”.
They were referring to the Adafruit promise which states that we do not sell blinking Christmas tree kits. This is our promise: No blinking christmas tree kits. We were confused by their assertion that our promise infringes on Velleman since we state unequivocally that we do not sell any “blinking Christmas trees” and we make it clear so no one is ever confused.
So, in the letter they requested that we remove the picture of the blinking Christmas tree from Velleman, we decided to consult with a lawyer before we did anything.
Don’t worry, the promise still stands, we do not sell blinking Christmas tree kits and we will still have a blinking Christmas tree representing this promise, you can see above and on the promise page. We would like to thank the law firm of Turner Boyd LLP and the EFF for helping us out with this matter. Here is our response.
We will not let this event ruin our festive spirit, or our promise to bring you the best kits that are open source, high-quality, modern and relevant to today’s electronic pro & hobbyist at the best value (just not Christmas tree kits, remember that) – with all that being said, we do have some exciting blinking Christmas tree news we’d like to share.
First up, our pals at SparkFun just released a blinky Christmas tree kit. Schematics and PCB files. Looks like it’s an open source through-hole kit, nice!
Secondly, Michael writes in…
As a followup to our Geek Wreath from a few years ago, we decided to make a Geek Tree inspired by the velleman 3D tree kit. Construction was funded by our new company Neighborhood Workshop.
If you have any blinking Christmas tree needs, all of these folks are you point persons. Remember, we do not sell them.
Stop breadboarding and soldering – start making immediately! Adafruit’s Circuit Playground is jam-packed with LEDs, sensors, buttons, alligator clip pads and more. Build projects with Circuit Playground in a few minutes with the drag-and-drop MakeCode programming site, learn computer science using the CS Discoveries class on code.org, jump into CircuitPython to learn Python and hardware together, TinyGO, or even use the Arduino IDE. Circuit Playground Express is the newest and best Circuit Playground board, with support for CircuitPython, MakeCode, and Arduino. It has a powerful processor, 10 NeoPixels, mini speaker, InfraRed receive and transmit, two buttons, a switch, 14 alligator clip pads, and lots of sensors: capacitive touch, IR proximity, temperature, light, motion and sound. A whole wide world of electronics and coding is waiting for you, and it fits in the palm of your hand.
To avoid the additional embarrassment and loss of revenue incurred by sending out threatening cease and desist orders that get posted all over the Internet and give you a nasty reputation, I recommend you fire your lawyers.
I, for one, will not be purchasing your products.
What’s your policy on LED menorah kits?
You know, we hear about this a lot: people with web sites being requested to take down unauthorized images, trade names, and such by lawyers claiming to represent the trademark holder. But does anyone ever check to see if these lawyers actually do represent them and aren’t, say, volunteering their services to impress a potential client? Even this letter never quite comes out and says Velleman asked them to do this. Right in the first sentence it says, “…we have been contacted concerning the unauthorized use…” By whom? (Passive voice = weasel words.)
When I had to settle my wife’s estate every creditor who had a claim sent me a letter telling me they had authorized Boye, Dewey, Cheatham, and Howe LLC (or whoever) to represent them in settlement negotiations. They got my cooperation. Everyone else got a cold stare and a request for documentation.
Since I still see a not-blinky-tree here, my guess is Adafruit’s attorney has straightened things out, and hopefully got a chuckle from it in the process.
Granted, Velleman’s maneuver was lame. But if you’re going to poke fun at a competitor, you probably shouldn’t use their logo, right? I’m tempted to say ‘screw velleman’, but what were they supposed to do? I imagine that if the Adafruit page had instead been a hearty endorsement of the Velleman kit they wouldn’t have called their lawyers.
Why doesn’t Adafruit carry these awesome kits anyway? 🙂
@will – just to be clear, we would not “poke fun” at velleman. they’re a long time kit maker that many of us have fond memories of. our promise is that we do not sell blinking christmas tree kits.
@dave h – in the letter from the lawyers they said “our client” and only speak of velleman.
How much money can there be in selling blinking Christmas trees??!! For the love of Pete. A three page letter from a laywer? Really?
This on par with the C&D SparkFun received recently…
I don’t know when Velleman released their tree but…
Silicon Chip published a “Multi colour LED Christmas tree” http://bit.ly/8DZV3p in 1999
From memory Jaycar electronics sold the kit for quite some years.
If they can do that, then why are Adafruit not allowed to say they don’t sell such kits?
Hang in there Ladyada, beat those nasty lawyers up 🙂
Has anyone checked to see if Christmas has been trademarked yet?
When it comes to trademarks and copyrights, it’s entirely up to the rights holder to decide who they want to prosecute for infringement. Velleman might not mind someone using a photo of their product in a complimentary way and let it be, but they might think the circle and slash might have just enough negativity to it they’d want it stopped. It’s entirely their choice.
@adafruit: Thanks for pointing out the “our client” term. I imagine the attorney is on the level about that. It’s probably just poor English that made the relationship look iffy to me.
I’m interested in more info about Neighborhood Workshop. That place looks great! The website is sort of useless, though. It appears that it doesn’t exist until 2010; how did you get your tree made there? Is it actually _your_ company?
@FazJaxton – contact michael about “Neighborhood Workshop” he sent this news story and photos to us. we do not know anything more about it than that.
@Dave H – yah, we do not think anything was negative, we created an image that clearly stated that we do not sell blinking christmas tree kits, that was it. the letter says that they agree that we did not intentionally infringe either. overall we’re disappointed they just didn’t email or call us first.
Are you able to share what you were told by either your law firm or the EFF in regards to the C&D?
When is Adafruit coming out with their blinking “Festivus Pole” kit?
*mental note* Add Velleman to list of over-lawyered companies with which I will not do business. Let’s see. . . here’s a space right after Monster Cable. OK, done.
Ah, thanks. I missed that that was quoted. 🙂
Oddly enough yesterday I got a trademark infringement email with the promise of a letter to follow. In my opinion the trademark claim they are making is clearly invalid. They are claiming I can’t use two common English words in the same sentence no matter how I arrange the words. I believe the real reason for their letter is my blog shows up in as the second link when searching for these words with google and my solution costs $35 while theirs is $450. When I get the letter I would like to contact a lawyer to see what they have to say about the claim, but the infringement is claimed against a diy blog that generates me zero income.
I’m wondering if you’d be willing to share if Turner & Boyd LLP or the EFF have a free or low cost service for cases like this where a bigger company is trying to bully a little blogger?
Even though this isn’t extremely malicious, I am a little bummed now that the company behind the 10 (!) kits I’ve been putting together over the past two weeks isn’t playing nicely with other kit makers.
Though I wouldn’t really be pleased to see any product i designed with a crossed circle over it, regardless of the context, I think a C&D letter is over the top. A simple email probably would have done nicely.
I cannot see how Velleman was harmed here. No use of their name or logo, no potential for customer confusion, not even a disparaging comment about their gear. Just a simple factual statement that you don’t sell a specific type of product. I have a hard time imagining any harm caused by the slashed out image of their blinking Christmas tree with a possible exception if you had used one of their photos without permission.
Your response seems completely reasonable, if unnecessary (i.e. it’s the least-risk, least-cost means of resolving the issue.) I would, however, ask the business side of Velleman for an apology for not first contacting you via normal business channels. It wastes everyone’s time and money and generates needless ill-will among kit customers when they immediately invoke their lawyers over such utter fucking nonsense. Such flimsy threats cheapen the legal profession and the law and do no good.
Maybe they don’t like seeing their product with their name on it with a big red cross through it and flashing lights promising that you would never make anything like this (because it is too cheesy/simple/dumb?). A lawyer’s letter feels extreme but they surely feel strongly about their good name.
Photo-shopping out the name was a good call.
Regardless of how strongly they might feel, it doesn’t make the issue a matter of law, so yes, a cease-&-desist letter is extreme. Sadly, it seems to be the first means of communication firms use, rather than a last resort once informal communications break down.
Ok, couple things.
The circle with the slash through is the international symbol for “NO”. It is comprised of an “N” stylistically superimposed over an “O”.
Which means your is backwards ******* unless you’re referring to OZ trees or something. Look at any road sign and you’ll see that the slash goes from upper left to lower right. Don’t worry though, the movie Ghostbusters got it wrong and everyone has copied them ever since.
Thanks for listening,
Mr. P has probably made the most cogent objection so far 🙂
Ghostbusters trumps everything else. If its good enough for Dr Peter Venkman, its good enough for us.
Nothing like killing the christmas spirit to bring in new business! NOT.
Hopefully the letters “F” and “U” , from me to you, will bring you some of that happy holiday spirit that you and your lawyers are so sorely lacking.
San Jose, CA
A non-blinking tree – Ian from Dangerous Prototypes has a Twitter-controlled fiber optic tree that uses his open-source web platform and a ShiftBrite, and now you can watch it live as it changes colors: