S’well stainless steel water bottles are becoming a common sight in the US and overseas, with sales topping $100m last year as consumers seek re-usable alternatives to plastics.
That success has been driven by the distinctive shape and colours of the bottles – and the fact that they can keep drinks cold for 24 hours and hot for 12 hours – and made the brand a target for counterfeiters trying to cash in on its success.
Stark evidence of that came this week when Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers at Charleston seaport revealed they had seized no fewer than five shipments of counterfeit S’well Bottle Co products over the course of the summer, valued at up to $12.3m at recommended sale prices.
The shipments included 345,597 individual bottles – both stainless steel and plastic – that mimicked the shapes and designs trademarked by S’well, according to the CBP. They were shipped from China and destined for a drinkware distributor in California, and were inspected by CBP after discrepancies in the shipment details rang alarm bells.
“The officers that worked these seizures did a tremendous job,” Charleston Area Port Director Robert Fencel said in a statement. “It required thorough attention to detail and research to discover this trademark infringement."
In December 2016, S’well won a $19m damages judgment in a case brought against Chinese website operator DHgate.com and 19 sellers of trademark-infringing copies of its products, along with an asset freeze and an injunction barring them from making, selling, or distributing the counterfeit bottles. The default judgment awarded $1m in damages against each defendant.
At the time, S’well’s founder and chief executive Sarah Kauss said the company was pleased with the outcome as it is “committed to protecting our intellectual property rights in the S'well bottle and S'well's well-known brand and commitment to health, wellness, conservation, and the environment.”
S'well was launched in 2010 with a mission of reducing the number of plastic bottles that end up in landfills, and its products are sold at well-known retailers and department stores across the US as well as 65 countries worldwide.
The company notes that “creating a high-performance vacuum-sealed stainless steel water bottle involves a complicated manufacturing process that involves over 70 steps. There are no shortcuts, which means it’s easy for imitators to get it wrong.”