In global manufacturing, you're only as good as your partners

Brooklyn-based design duo CW&T designed a pen and funded its production through Kickstarter. Then a look-alike showed up for sale by a partner in the project. Uh oh.

You've got to feel for Brooklyn, N.Y.-based design duo CW&T.

The pair placed a neat idea they developed -- the "Pen Type A" minimalist pen, a stainless steel upgrade to the beloved plastic Pilot Hi-Tec-C pen -- on Kickstarter to raise $2,500 and get it produced, to the joy of design nerds everywhere.

It worked. More than 4,000 people donated a total of $281,990 to the project -- whoa, Nelly! -- and CW&T proceeded to production in China.

Everything was hunky dory until one of them noticed that the Classic pen by Torr, on sale at, looked similar.

Awfully similar. Too similar. Repulsively similar. (*See an update about this post, below.)

The designers discovered that the idea appeared to be lifted from them wholesale -- from one of their own partners, according to the design website NotCot. The designers had turned to China to meet large-scale demand for the pens; in doing so, their idea was apparently pilfered by one of their own partners.

NotCot writes:

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.

Thankfully, the $150 pens are now made at "a multi-generational family run machine shop in Vermont" -- you can buy them here -- but the lesson still stings: vet your partners.

Update: Turns out that both pens in question are based on a 1979 patent for a surgical steel pen. Torr says their general-interest model was inspired by this, and not the CW&T version, which is intended primarily for the designer audience that uses Hi-Tec-C ink. The way I see it, both parties legally based their products on an existing idea, but their relationship made the timing iffy. Here's an idea for a new headline: "There are no original ideas." Here's another: "In global manufacturing, you're only as good as your public relations team."

Photo: CW&T

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