Tenkara Takes Knock-off Case to Court

5-13_TenkaraBy Morgan Lyle

It’s not hard to have fly rods manufactured in Asia, or at least not nearly as hard as it used to be. If you’re interested in becoming a rod-maker, whether as a start-up brand or a fly shop looking to market your own private label rods, you have ready access to rods that are comparable to those being sold by your competitors.

In fact, it’s possible to get too comparable. So thinks Daniel Galhardo, founder and owner of Tenkara USA, who single-handedly introduced Japanese-style telescoping, fixed-line fly rods to the west in April 2009.

As tenkara has caught on, many small competitors have sprung up, all Internet-based. Galhardo says he’s had to issue a couple of cease-and-desist letters a month to tenkara rod companies, in the U.S. and Europe, mostly for  appropriating his marketing copy or photos. But when he saw the following ad for the Denver Fly Shop, Galhardo called his lawyer, and the matter is now in U.S. District Court.

“We looked at all the Tenkara rods on the market and did some research and found one particular rod that outsells every other Tenkara rod combined and had our own version made by the same manufacturer as the leading Tenkara company,” Denver Fly Shop told customers in its e-newsletter. “Getting this rod without the use of a distributor is allowing us to sell this rod at far less than half the market price.”

The rod, which looks and works an awful lot like a Tenkara USA Ito, was advertised for $100. The real Ito goes for $235.95. Galhardo sued, alleging trade dress and trademark infringement, dilution, unfair competition, false description and false advertising.

Galhardo says it’s not true that the Denver Fly Shop rod is made by the same manufacturer that makes the Tenkara USA Ito. The shop is also mistaken in suggesting the Ito is the top-selling rod, he said; that honor goes to the company’s Iwana model.

And he notes that a lot of work and investment went into developing the Ito – long trips to Japan to study tenkara rods and consult with veteran tenkara anglers, more trips to China to find the right manufacturer, and eventually buying into the ownership of the rod factory. No wonder the fly shop can charge less, he said.

“This was one of the first that was a clear attempt to copy a rod, and a rod that I spent a long time designing – and it was right here in my neighborhood,” said Galhardo, who moved Tenkara USA from San Francisco to Boulder, Colo. last year. “In my mind, that really diminished the value of our product. Essentially (the fly shop) was saying that our rods weren’t worth as much as they are.” (Denver Fly Shop did not respond to requests for an interview.)

Read the full story in the next print edition of Angling Trade

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17 Responses to Tenkara Takes Knock-off Case to Court

  1. Fat says:

    The idea that Daniel “single-handedly introduced Japanese-style telescoping, fixed-line fly rods to the west” is a little over the top, eh? Yes, he’s done a good job with his brand, but the guy does not OWN Tenkara as a style of fishing. He does not get to define what it is and he does not get to be the only authority on all fishing with a fixed line. Look, we’re not talking about something that is very complicated…its a carbon fiber stick. How much R&D can really go into it? Daniel, put your money into building your brand instead of attacking no name people that want to put their name on a stick that is similar to yours. Focus on service and value and you will do better in the long run.

  2. Ed Maurer says:

    I have to agree with Fat. When I first heard about Tenkara rods my reaction was, “So what, we’ve done that for ever here.” Not to diminish Dan’s product, and certainly not to support those who would pirate designs, but I used a version – a long rod with a fixed line and fly – in Wyoming in 1986, certainly long before the Tenkara trend (fad?) became well known in the States.

  3. Todd says:

    He isn’t going after each company he is going after one company for copying his rod. It’s like if orvis went after a company that sold the helios2 under another brand. All fishing rods are similar in shape but very different in action, quality, bend, weight, balance. He is going after a rod that was essentially built by him.

  4. craig says:

    From the facts presented it looks like Daniel has a reasonable case, at least on commn decency and plain fairness. It’s perfectly fine for others to compete and yes there’s nothing unique in carbon rod manufacture. You can say that your productis as good as the leading brand. But you cannot use the other brand to advertise your own product without the owners permission, fair’s fair. And you certainly shouldn’t be making false claims that your product is the same just rebranded, if it is not. That would be deceptive. If you want to compete, then compete,you should not use others investment in branding and advertisement. You shôuld develop your own brand and sell it on its own merits.

  5. Bob says:

    Craig has it right

  6. rarf says:

    “who single-handedly introduced Japanese-style telescoping, fixed-line fly rods to the west in April 2009″ … sorry, but that’s a big ol’ pile of sh!t: nothing wrong with being the main pillar for the promotion/advancement of tenkara in North America, but telescopic, fixed line rods have been part of our landscape for several decades (at the very least)

    that judge will be laughing his a$$ off

    • Todd says:

      Not at all. He in fact introduced the Japanese style to us. It’s not saying he introduced all fixed line fishing. Cane poles and black widow poles have been around for awhile, but none of them designed for a fly with the weight and action as a tenkara rod. That’s fact. Most fixed line fishing is done with a bobber and some form of bait.

    • andy says:

      my grandfather introduced me to this, a bamboo cane pole, line and just the lure. sounds like something mankind has been doing for a long time……

  7. Seve says:

    Didn’t Galhardo copy something that has been done in Japan for centuries? And isn’t the word Tenkara the Japanese word for this method? Where’s his original concept?

  8. Chris says:

    Daniel did a good job of introducing an old method of fishing to a new market. And, hopefully, he made some money for his efforts. But he is delusional if he thinks that he can keep the profits of this concept to himself forever. The world is full of companies and individuals who are ready to pounce on the latest trend. Most are mere imitators who will take a temporary share of the market. Although they are annoying, they will quickly disappear and anyone who has bought one of their products will be left without recourse if there is a warranty issue. But a few will bring the concept to a new level which might be good for Daniel if he is paying attention.
    The point is that we all need to keep moving forward. The moment that we decide to rest on our laurels is also the day we write our obituary.

  9. Competition……it is what makes this country great.The freedom to choose what we want and from who.It’s sad that we have to go this far to make a point.I understand the time and effort one puts in a business, competition will always be there especially when you have a Great Product…….growing up in Hawaii my first pole 13 bamboo with fixed mono .75.the best fishing pole I ever had.Like my dad would tell me you get what you pay for.
    Hana Hou

  10. Brian C. says:

    To me it is simple, the quality, customer service and passion that everyone at TenkaraUSA will never be duplicated by any other company ever. Sure some may sell rods and some of them may have good customer service but most of them have no clue what true tenkara is. I am all for competition, especially when it is fair and above board. However underhanded deception has no place in the tenkara community and should be shunned by all. While Daniel is not the messiah when it comes to tenkara, he truly is the first to bring tenkara to the masses of the west. If not show me a company that was first. Also for those attacking Daniel, you must not truly know him. He is the most humble and sincere guy I’ve ever met. He is not only a great teacher and student of tenkara but truly a great human being. I myself will always choose TenkaraUSA because I know the passion and quality that goes into every single rod. Plus if you ever have an issue their customer service is truly the best.

  11. Doc B. says:

    I agree with Brian C. Tenkara USA, Daniel and his staff are professionally knowledgeable and their customer service standards are by far the best I have had the pleasure to deal with. I have purchased 5 rods this past year for myself and family and I personally praise the products and especially the customer service. Each and every time, when a fellow fisherman asks for my input on the streams of NC, I praise the business standards and integrity of Tenkara USA. I would gladly speak to groups of fly fisherman and market Tenkara USA rods and the technique. Knock-offs will come and go but Tenkara USA is a stand-alone first rate company with an owner that is in it for the long-term!!!

    Thanks you Daniel and Tenkara USA,

    Doc B. in NC

  12. Nick Martin says:

    It was the writer of the article that stated that Daniel “single handedly introduced fixed line fishing”; I don’t think Daniel would make that assertion. But he can say that he introduced the Tenkara fishing style and rods to the West. His lawsuit had merit because although he can’t stop other manufactures from coming out with competing Tenkara rods, he can stop other manufacturers from claiming that they are selling the same rod as his, made by the same factory but at a fraction of the price, especially when it isn’t true!

  13. Brett says:

    Nick nailed it. The distinct nature of this case isn’t just the rod itself but how it was marketed. In essence it would be like me saying that I researched the materials and found the same factory that makes the Sage One rod and duplicated it so that I could offer you one at a fraction of the price. Would anyone have a problem if Sage decided to go after me? I didn’t think so. Sage doesn’t have a problem with Loop, G-Loomis, or Orvis (all of which use the same technology called something different) making their own rods. Now that TFO is making a Tenkara Rod and another US-based company (Tenkara Rod Co) is making rods, I don’t think Daniel is going after those folks…he is going after bootlegged copies of his rods.

  14. David says:

    If anyone can be said to have introduced tenkara to the US it was probably Misako Ishimura in New York, several years before Galhardo “discovered” it on the internet. Galhardo has consistently revised the history of tenkara in the US to put himself at its center, as a marketing tool. His only real “first” was in marketing Chinese-made tankara-style rods over the internet. Daiwa, Shimano, Nissin and others had been making tenkara rods for years in Japan.

    Having said that, it was foolish of the Denver Fly Shop to advertise their rod as identical to one of his, but is it illegal? When I go to the grocery store I buy generic ibuprofen that says “Compare to Advil” right on the box. Galhardo certainly didn’t invent the telescoping graphite tenkara rod, so isn’t the Denver Fly Shop’s rod just a copy of something he copied?

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