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Counterfeiting Case Shocks German Firms

Swiss E Technik. Source: Handelsblatt
Jörg Füllemann, inventor of a low-emission boiler he says was stolen by a German company.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Germany’s famed mid-sized companies have been shocked by a counterfeit scandal emanating from home, rather than carried out by foreign plagiarists.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Swiss firm Swiss E-Technic patented its low-emission, highly efficient wall heating unit in 1997.
    • German company Viessmann Group approached the Swiss proposing a collaboration.
    • The Swiss claim the Germans dropped the deal and then stole their invention.
  • Audio

    Audio

  • Pdf

High in the Swiss alps overlooking the Chur Rhine Valley is the villa-HQ of Swiss E-Technic, a small but highly innovative firm making heating systems.

But managing director Jörg Füllemann has little time to stare out at the spectacular view. He is in the final stages of a legal battle with much larger German rival, the Viessmann Group, which he accuses of copying his invention.

In May, it seemed Mr. Füllemann had finally won his case. The German Federal Supreme Court upheld an earlier ruling making the German company liable to pay millions in damages to the Swiss firm.

But Mr. Füllemann says he hasn’t yet seen a cent.

It’s a case that’s struck a nerve among Germany’s famed Mittelstand sector of mid-sized, mostly family-run businesses. For many years German businesses have been complaining of outsiders appropriating their hard-won innovations and producing counterfeits.

The main shock for many Germans is that here, the roles have been reversed.

This time, the plagiarizers aren’t Chinese industrial spies, but typical German businessmen. Viessmann now stands accused of a very un-German crime: Counterfeit ‘Made in Germany.’

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