Link Love: Pen Gossip

Several products reviewed this week reminded me thatI heard quite a bit of “insider” news while at the pen show last week.

First, a legal issue has arisen with TWSBI. Just prior to the Atlanta Pen Show, online pen shops received a letter from TWSBI telling them they had until May 1 to remove Narwhal and PenBBS from their catalogs. TWSBI is taking legal action against these companies for using their filling system technology and other components in their pens. I don’t have specifics about the letter but heard about it from several vendors in Atlanta. When you read the review of the PenBBS 456 Cordierite Fountain Pen on The Pen Addict, the similarity of the filling system to TWSBI’s Vac700 is very apparent so I can certainly see the possible issue.

In an effort to get Narwhal and PenBBS to change their designs, TWSBI is pressuring pen shops that sell the competing brands to remove them thereby hitting Narwhal and PenBBS where it will hurt them most — their bottom line. Of course, I question the percentage of overall sales of PenBBS and Narwhal in the US and how much this move will hurt them financially but I certainly understand the action.

Yoseka Stationery has a wonderful video (listed below) that walks through all the products currently available from TWSBI. She talks through all the filling systems and visual differences in the pens if you are not familiar with their whole product line.

Where do you stand on this issue? Do you own any Narwhal or PenBBS pens? Do you think they have crossed the line in their pen designs into copyright infringement territory?

The second issue is with Perpanep paper. I heard a rumor that the creator of the Perpanep line died recently and Kokuyo is not planning to continue the line after the existing stock is depleted. Sadly, I cannot find any news to corroborate this bit of gossip but I really like the paper and was looking forward to seeing where the Perpanep product line was headed. I guess I’ll grab a few more notebooks now, just in case this rumor is true.

Have you heard about either of these issues? If you have links to more information, please include them in the comments. Thanks.

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10 comments / Add your comment below

  1. CY/TokyoStationPens did a disassembly of Narwhal, Moonman, TWSBI, and Pelikan pistons.They are all similar, but they aren’t drop-in compatible with each other. So TWSBI’s claim that Narwhal/Moonman copied the design exactly doesn’t fly with me. As for the similarities… they’re all derivatives of Pelikan’s famous 1929 patent, and as the patent has expired, everyone is allowed to use it.

    I don’t think TWSBI has legal ground to stand on, and I haven’t seen reference to an actual case filing. So I think they’re trying to bully Narwhal and Moonman, and using their scale and penetrations with retailers to do it. Which I do not find to be a good look for TWSBI. I think they’re in the wrong here.

    1. Thought I would expand on the nature of intellectual property protections, and why I think as I do above. There are several types of protections available:

      Copyright protects words, music, paintings, etc. None of those are on these pens, so copyright is not an issue. If there were a picture on the pen and the picture were reproduced, there could be a copyright claim.

      Trademarks are intended to identify the source of goods so that customers don’t think something they buy came from someone else. As the USPTO writes, they “can be any word, phrase, symbol, design, or a combination of these things that identifies your goods or services.” At a high level, nobody is confusing the Narwhal or Moonman pens with a TWSBI, because they look completely different. Specifically, the companies aren’t using the TWSBI logo or names. So TWSBI has no trademark claim.

      Next up are design patents. Design patents are intended to patent nonfunctional or decorative pieces of a design that make up the design of an object. They aren’t very strong, but since the pens in question all look different, I don’t think TWSBI has a claim here. I’m not aware of TWSBI filing for or being issued any design patents, and they haven’t mentioned one in any of the leaked emails. If they have a design patent, they might have a case in court, but I’m dubious.

      Finally, utility patents. This would normally be the strongest defense, but in order to get one, you have to have invented something new over what the current state of the art is. As I mentioned, the Pelikan patent was from 1929, so TWSBI would have needed a specific twist on how their patent works and Narwhal, &co would have needed to copy that twist. TWSBI hasn’t mentioned any patents and in an old Fountain Pen Network post, Speedy said that “On this pen, there is not new patent involved. Most of the mechanism or system available on fountain are long time ago innovation, correct me if I am wrong.”

      Once a patent expires, people are allowed to use it. That is the point of patents, so that inventors are given a limited monopoly on an invention in exchange for everyone else learning how to make one. If TWSBI doesn’t have a patent, there’s nothing legally stopping anyone from making a 1:1 copy of their patent. But as the mentioned comparison by CY showed, these weren’t 1:1 copies anyway.

      So my take is TWSBI has no legal case, and I think they know it. They aren’t going to sue. Instead, they’re trying to use their market size to apply pressure, and I think it’s unwarranted and unfair.

  2. I feel like TWSBI has waited an awfully long time to do this. I believe that you have to defend your copyright in order to maintain it. That being said, I don’t necessarily doubt the validity of their claims. I know that goulet has never picked up Penbbs or Narwhal and I wonder if this is part of why.

  3. Thanks for mentioning the TWSBI issue. I’ve heard about it elsewhere, but the accusation now levelled against PenBBS is an unpleasant new surprise. I have viewed TWSBI’s actions with a sense of great regret. For context, I love fountain pens. I have a good collection of them. I’ve kept up with TWSBI’s work ever since the first whisperings started, years ago, of TWSBI’s innovations with piston-filling pens, and have admired its innovation and pluckiness in a time where the primary option for piston-fillers was Pelikan. I did like TWSBI’s products, and in fact a TWSBI Eco was one of my very first fountain pens and has served me well to this day.

    I find it incredibly gross that TWSBI is trying to remove its competitors from the marketplace by falsely accusing them of making products that are the same as TWSBI’s. As far as piston-fillers go, TWSBI itself was inspired by its predecessors, including Pelikan. The current market is awash with piston-filling pens. The piston-filling fountain pen (at any and all price points) is nothing new, and was certainly not invented by TWSBI.

    As for vacuum-fillers, those are nothing new either. I promise you that the single vac-filler on the market that comes to mind first is the Pilot 823, and not the TWSBI vacs. This is evident as well in the Pen Addict review that you have mentioned, where the main point of comparison with the PenBBS pen is the Pilot 823, and not the TWSBI vac-filler. And before Pilot ever made its first 823, there was Sheaffer and Onoto. TWSBI did not create the vac-filler.

    It is also worth noting that despite TWSBI’s struggle to justify its position, the objective evidence shows that TWSBI’s components were simply not copied. Tokyostationpens on Instagram has debunked the claim that the dimensions of TWSBI’s piston mechanisms are the same as Narwhal’s. I also wish to point out that the PenBBS vac-filler is not even designed in the same manner as the TWSBI vac-filler, as the PenBBS has a double-chamber design that TWSBI lacks. To my mind the PenBBS vac-filler resembles the TWSBI vac-fillers only to the extent that they are both, well, vac-fillers.

    To add insult to injury, it is clear to my mind that the reason that TWSBI is lashing out in this manner is that its market share is being threatened by other brands. These other brands are making better-designed and better-built products in a variety of turned resins while TWSBI has stuck to its injection-molded plastics since day one, with the very rare and very occasional very limited run of turned resin pens (which sell out immediately, I might add. TWSBI may sell more by simply making more). That TWSBI refuses to make more of these to keep up with its competition, and is instead resorting to these tactics, feels like pure laziness.

    Finally, I will note that none of TWSBI’s efforts are likely to be effective. As far as these new brands are concerned, the cat is out of the bag, and has been wandering the area for some time now. Resources and recommendations for PenBBS and Narwhal pens are easily available on the Internet, and TWSBI’s attempts to prevent retailers from carrying these pens will merely compel customers to look elsewhere in order to acquire them, driving business away from these retailers.

    Ultimately, for TWSBI to suppress its competition in this manner feels abusive at best and borderline fraudulent at worst. It is with deep, deep regret that I will never buy another TWSBI pen.

  4. What I want to know is what happened to Autopoint pencils? What caused them to die? Looking forward to reading a report from you guys!

    1. I can’t answer the question in full, but I had ordered some .5 autopoint lead back in 2020 and that was a wild process. I had ordered directly from the website and it took forever and a day. I finally emailed them to figure out what the heck had happened, and the person who responded said they had been out on surgery leave and apparently while they were gone no one filled any orders… for over 2 months. I had assumed it was just a pandemic related issue, but now I see they’re completely gone. The biggest bummer of all that is the loss of the their lead. You can easily find tons and tons of vintage Autopoints on ebay, so they’re still around that way, but the lead is going to be a hassle since you’ll basically have to order regular sized lead and break it to fit into the mechanism. Like you, I would like to know more about what happened. How does such a massive, iconic brand simply disappear?

  5. I love TWSBI. And I have studiously avoided collecting any of the pens (and they are legion) that are dead cheap knock offs of other pens. Moonman, Jinhao are just two that come to mind. It doesnt have to be an exact replica to be a knock off as far as I am concerned. The Walmart mentality. I stand with TWS.

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