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The Case of the Counterfeit Lamps

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Epson Lamps

In the UK, the West Berkshire Trading Standards initiated a prosecution against Just Lamps, based on serious damage to an Epson projector in Germany that was traced back to a counterfeit lamp.

In a trial at the Reading Magistrates Court in September 2015, Just Lamps pleaded guilty to supplying counterfeit Epson lamps and was required to pay legal costs and a fine-- as well as turning over any counterfeit lamps in its possession.

After examination, 67 lamps deemed counterfeit were removed from Just Lamp’s premises.

The case is notable because Just Lamps is a specialist lamp distributor with more than a decade of track record. How could this happen to a company that has shipped 1.5m lamps?

rAVe EUROPE interviewed Just Lamps MD Dave Bethell to get a better understanding of the story behind the case of the counterfeit lamps.

Just Lamps

You've been in business since 2002… in fact, the first specialist distributor of projector lamps. How could your company get fooled?

In most cases we source our lamps directly from the projector manufacturers so the risk of counterfeits doesn’t affect us. However, our direct relationship with Epson broke down a few years ago and we were forced to go to alternative channels. Counterfeiters, mainly in China, are continually improving their products and making them more difficult to identify and through international brokers these products can find their way into distributors’ warehouses in any country. With our eyes wide open to the risk of counterfeit lamps we ensured that a series of checks were made on product received to warrant their authenticity. Unfortunately we found these checks were insufficient as there was a steep change in the quality and a small number of lamps passed into our warehouse. Epson themselves acknowledged these were ‘more sophisticated that previous counterfeit lamps we have encountered.’ We have since overhauled our systems.

The Epson press release suggests serious damage to an Epson projector. Was this a fact established in court-- or did the case focus more on the authenticity of the lamps?

A retaining clip was not present on a lamp installed by a German projector owner resulting in the light being directed at the body of the projector causing the projector to overheat. Subsequent independent testing of the counterfeit lamps versus Epson lamps, inside projectors supplied by Epson, concluded that they had not been able to provoke an unsafe operating condition. However, significant credit needs to be given to the safety design of the Epson projectors which shut themselves down during testing once it detected that a lamp, either genuine or counterfeit, was overheating when the ventilation is blocked.

Epson is, of course, protecting its own revenue from their original parts business. To some degree, it works to their business interest to have a very public case. Presumably, as an industry member, Epson could have just contacted you directly without going to court? Was there prior contact or straight to court?

Unfortunately there was no contact prior to this, however we have been in regular contact with Epson during the investigation to provide detail of the supplier in question and other counterfeit Epson lamps we are aware of and we are still seeking to work with Epson to raise counterfeit lamp awareness.

We know of many projector lamps being sold on eBay (and other ecommerce sites) by traders. To the best of your knowledge, does Epson make any effort to control which are legitimate and which might cause customers a problem?

I can’t speak for Epson, but there are a noticeable number of counterfeit lamps sold on ecommerce marketplaces.

Just Lamps website

You actually advocate against fake lamps on your website. You maintain a website that opens with a photo of how hard it is to tell the difference between two photos of NEC lamps, one fake and one real. How long have you been supporting the web site:

We initiated the campaign against counterfeits in 2012 and spent two years trying to engage the leading projector manufacturers including Epson before deciding to launch the web site. The website was launched in January 2014 to help raise awareness of counterfeit lamps and to provide some tools to detect them. We do a lot of test purchases of lamps where we see a price that is below the market value and the unfortunate reality is that they quality of counterfeit lamps is getting better all the time. With regard to the website, we are stuck between improving the guidelines for counterfeit detection and educating the counterfeiters as to how to make a better fake. One significant evolution is that a lot more bulbs are now counterfeit.

You offer a range of replacement lamps, Diamond Lamps, for companies that prefer more cost-effective solutions? Are replacement lamps as different from counterfeit lamps as right is from wrong?

Diamond Lamps are a cost effective alternative for price conscious consumers who still require great performance from their lamp, using bulbs from the major lighting manufacturers, Philips, Osram, Ushio etc. Different customers with differing requirements will select either a lamp provided by the projector brand, a quality aftermarket solution such as a Diamond Lamp or a cheap copy lamp, taking the associated risks in performance and lifetime. All these solutions are legal and therefore correct for the right application.

There are many different counterfeiting practices. If there is such a thing as a good end to this illegal activity then those that use a genuine bulb from one of the big lighting manufacturers are at least putting a quality component in a lamp, albeit the wrong one. However, as said earlier, many counterfeit lamps now have counterfeit bulbs. To answer your question, it’s not the quality of the lamp that defines a counterfeit but the illegal act of deliberately passing it off as an original manufacturer’s lamp. Every counterfeit lamp is wrong as to buy it or sell it is illegal.

Your web site claims "The world's largest specialist distributor for projector lamps." How big would you estimate the market to be for replacement projector lamps? Any idea of what percent might be the counterfeit?

By my own experience the European market is worse that the American market but it varies by country. We have performed a lot of education in Europe and E-commerce aside, the UK would be much like the US where the percentage of counterfeit lamps is now below 5%, but in some countries such as France and Germany the proportion is probably above 25%. However if you look at the Asian market where counterfeit lamps originate, the proportion in some countries is significantly over 50%.

Surely the price being “too good to be true” would warn distributors away from these counterfeit channels?

Projector lamps are universal in that a lamp retailed in Europe for a particular projector model is identical to the one retailed in America or Asia, however a number of projector manufacturers elect to sell their lamps into these individual markets at significantly different prices and by significant I don't mean 10% or 15%, but a factor of two or more. The net result is that there are a number of brokers who exploit the price disparity and this enables a channel for counterfeit lamps to infiltrate the supply chain.

What are the projector manufacturers doing about counterfeit lamps?

In most cases they are doing very little as the projector lamp marketplace is seen as a very small proportion of their overall business. The significant exception is Epson who use their significant experience in combatting counterfeit ink and toner for printers.

Go Epson Press Release

Go Just Lamps Press Release