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Local firm’s patent used illegally

By Kay S. Pedrotti The lower hem of your T-shirt may be costing a Barnesville company thousands of dollars. Bottoms Associates, inventors of an automated ‘hem former,’ has learned that companies in South America are duplicating the hem former and undercutting Bottoms’ price for the sewing machine attachment as well as shipping tops made with the pirated part back for sale in the United States. Investigators for Bottoms, posing as potential customers for the part, have received communications admitting that the part is patented but citing a ‘low profile’ as the best way to prevent the patent owners from finding out about the infringement. ’Is like a movie you buy off pirates in the street. You don’t go and exhibit yourself with it,’ the foreign company stated. Bottoms’ controller Roger Cole says, ‘The worst part of all this is that there isn’t a whole lot we can do about it. Patent laws are supposed to protect us against things like this, but the foreign companies have admitted that U.S. laws mean nothing to them. It’s up to us to prosecute it and we estimate it would take a minimum of a million dollars for that effort. Meanwhile, the rip-off companies would have shut down and moved elsewhere under different names.’ It’s hard enough to stay in business as a small company, says vice president Clay Lovejoy, ‘without having to deal with overseas companies stealing your products.’ The Bottoms company started out in 1979 in a backyard building at the home of founders Joe and Carol Bottoms. At that time, there were only eight competitor companies in the U.S. making ‘sheet metal folders’ to fold fabric on sewing machines. The company took on other machining duties for firms in the area in 1984, and in 1986 was incorporated as Bottoms Associates. Work began in 1992 on a new guiding device for hemming T-shirts, known as the Air Hemmer, and the device was patented in 1994 and 1995. The patents have been renewed as required since then, says Cole. To date, the company has more than 8,000 of these air guiding devices installed throughout the world, Lovejoy says. ’Not only is this patent violation a problem for us,’ Cole adds, ‘but we also have discovered that the Chinese and others are experts at computer hacking of software updates, waiting until the engineering is finished and then copying the parts. Maybe there is nothing we can do — except let people know what is happening to American small businesses.’

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