Tool manufacturers are fighting to stem the tide of counterfeits entering the U.S. market.

According to Jenni Becker, the President of Empire Level, some overseas manufacturers play by a different set of rules, ones that do not include honoring intellectual property (IP) rights. Outside of the U.S., where there is less chance of prosecution, infringers are selling fakes that include the brand label. For sales in this country they are more likely to copy everything except the label and hope patent holders don't notice. The appearance or "trade dress" of a tool can be patented so that's what's being ripped off – and the customer too if he's fooled into thinking the tool is something it's not.

This is a problem for manufacturers and tool buyers around the world; in March of this year a law enforcement raid in the United Arab Emirates uncovered 150,000 fake Stanley, DeWalt, and Black & Decker tools. The haul included hand tools and 1,000 drills. Empire has been chasing down companies that copy its torpedo levels. According to Becker, if the packaging says "Made in China", the torpedo level is not from Empire (which makes 100% of its torpedo levels and 90% of its other products in a plant in Wisconsin). That's not to say every torpedo level that looks like one of Empire's is fake. The company has produced torpedo levels under the Craftsman label since 1929 – which is fine because Empire holds the patents.

Click the photo on the left to see examples of real and fake levels. For more on the problem of knockoff tools, see this excellent article by John Caulfield at Builder Online.