Selling knock-off Rolexes is illegal? But everybody else is doing it!

This watch is for sale online.  A real Rolex or a $99 fake?

This watch is for sale online. A real Rolex or a $99 fake?

The Wisconsin State Journal brings us this story of Vincent Konicek, the owner and developer of toprolexreplica.com, who has surprisingly been sued for–can you believe it–selling knock-off Rolex watches over the Internet and cybersquatting.  His reply?  Essentially admit the conduct, assert the “everybody’s-doing-it” and “ignorance-of-the-law” excuses, and then admit that you need a lawyer:

Konicek said Wednesday that he started selling the fake Rolexes after a trip to China, where they were being sold on the street for $10. Konicek sells his own Chinese-made Rolexes for $99.

The lawsuit states that Rolex found out about the site in October and wrote to Konicek. He faxed back a letter five days later, saying that when they finish “suing all of the following merchants listed on Google search pages, call me and let me know you are going after me next.”

He attached two pages of a Google search that used the terms “Rolex replica.” Rolex concluded that Konicek is “fully aware” that what he is doing is illegal and willful, the lawsuit states.

But Konicek didn’t sound all that certain.

“I didn’t know I was going to run into copyright infringement,” he said. “I guess I’ll have to talk to an attorney and see what I can do.”

Here’s the Complaint (pdf). Among the surprising allegations:

  • Konicek registered the domain name in his own name, and left the whois record active. (Maybe he really didn’t know it was illegal?)
  • Rolex sent a cease and desist letter based only on the domain name before the site was active. (Isn’t this the time to at least consult a lawyer on the legalities of your enterprise?)
  • Konicek responded to the cease and desist with a Google printout of other replica sites and a message of ““[w]hen you finish suing all of the following merchants listed on Google search pages, call me and let me know you are going after me next” and went ahead with the site.

I’m slightly sympathetic to Vince.  It always amazes me that so many businesses can sell direct knock-offs of products and seemingly get away with it.  IP owners can register their marks with the Customs and Border Patrol to intercept shipments of counterfeit goods, but that only works when there’s actually an inspection.  There are also administrative procedures with the International Trade Commission to prevent import of products, but that doesn’t stop the piece-by-piece shipment of goods to the U.S. by mail from some foreign company selling on an anonymous website. And raiding mom-and-pop stores in Chinatown isn’t a way to build up goodwill.

I was fortunate enough to work for a company that marketed jewelry and watches in the United States that never sold fakes and was careful to ensure that its products were not likely to infringe any intellectual property rights of others.  And I would guess that the owners of that business would have shared Vince’s frustration that, just because he was an American who was trying to run a transparent business, he gets sued for hundreds of thousands of dollars and dozens of other websites just keep on counterfeiting.  Still, if all of your friends copy music on BitTorrent and get away with it, you can’t cry foul when the RIAA comes after you.  When you sell knock-offs, you can’t be surprised that the original IP owners will be upset.  But what really gets me is why Vince didn’t just go to a lawyer and figure out his options when he got the cease and desist letter. If he was lookin’ for a fight, he got one, and with all of his admissions, he’s in serious trouble.

But who knows–maybe he can become a successful merchant of Obama thongs. (Then again, that may get him into trouble, too.)

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12 Comments

Filed under Counterfeiting, Law, Trademarks, Uncategorized

12 responses to “Selling knock-off Rolexes is illegal? But everybody else is doing it!

  1. I’m the poor schmuk that took on Rolex and lost. Court awarded Rolex $330,000 because I sold 8 replica watches.

    So watch out entreprenuers “Big Brother” is watching you.

    Vince Konicek

  2. And yet there are still countless websites online advertising and selling replica watches with impunity. Some major ones too.

    They still haven’t gotten around to suing them. Too bad you got singled out Vince.

  3. Rich Kessler

    Vince, for goodness sakes, you’re not the victim. You knowingly sold goods that are illegal to import — counterfeit trademarked designer items, in this case incorrectly labeled with the name of your victim. I’m no lawyer, but it doesn’t take one to understand that you’re not guilty just because you can point to others who haven’t been caught yet. (There are others who have been caught before you.) Try that defense if you’re ever pulled over for speeding. I promise that the patrolman will laugh at you when you proclaim, “Pull me over only after you’ve caught the others I saw also going at least as fast as I was. Plus I’m just a poor pensioner trying to get to my destination. So don’t come after me, ‘big brother’.” Gee whiz, Vince!!!

  4. sam palfenier

    My question is. Can you legally sell a knock off product if you explicitly declare that the product you are selling is not the real thing.

  5. No, you can’t sell any knockoffs, replicas, fakes or any other way you want to describe it…. it is considered counterfiet and punishable by civil and criminal courts. The judge that sentenced me, said, “…you can’t even give them away!” so much for the Christmas gifts that I had in mind.

  6. Chuck Johnson

    Vince,
    Seems like you were pretty blatent about marketing these knock-offs. If you would have been more discreet do you think you would have been caught ?
    Thanks for your input.

    Chuck

  7. No more blatant or open than any of the other web sites. My mistake was not cooperating with Rolex the first time they asked me quit. If I Had stopped immediately, I don’t think they would have persued the law suit. They were so mad at my indignation, that they flew in a lawyer from New York to appear in court with their local representative. They ended up charging me over $60,000 in legal fees, besides the $300,ooo Federal Court Fine.

  8. Chuck Johnson

    How did ROLEX find out about you …. did you have a web site or did someone “rat you out”. I wouldn’t think if you were selling 20-30 a month they’d find you.

  9. found me through my website toprolexreplica.com. they have researchers scanning the internet daily, even craigs list…

  10. Chuck Johnson

    So …. it seems if you limited your sales to close friends and acquaintances it would be relatively hard for them to catch you.

  11. I can’t say. The judge gagged me from saying or doing anything with replica watches.

  12. PoPo snitch

    “I can’t say. The judge gagged me from saying or doing anything with replica watches.” I have forwarded this webpage to the wisconsin state police

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