EMD Motorcycle Design Versus Custom Parts Distributor Zodiac. If It’s Not Plagiarism, What Is It?

1-EMD2-EMDDuring the last 12 months I had the opportunity to feature the custom parts designed and cast by EMD (Esteves Motorycle Design). Rocker, primary and cam covers all conceived with a vintage vibe for XL, Evo, Twin Cam Harley-Davidson modern bikes. Original parts sold both in the US and Europe and now extremely popular on both continents. Of course, EMD expected that these cool parts would inspire (or much worse…) other parts manufacturers, China being usually the prime suspect…

5-EMDInspiration is one thing (nobody, no company can deny being inspired by what others are doing) But plagiarism, or the act of copying someone’s idea, creative work and passing it off as your own, is a much more serious matter. It’s true that in some countries it’s not necessarily illegal. In others it is illegal only when your ideas/products are protected by a patent, a very costly and time consuming commercial process, especially if protection from plagiarism is sought in several countries.

Last weekend I was contacted by EMD’s owner and industrial designer who provided me with a series of documents showing what looks like knockoffs of their original products being sold by Zodiac NL headquartered in the Netherlands, the oldest and one of Europe largest distributors of parts and accessories for Harley-Davidson motorcycles. EMD alleges that their research about the manufacturer of these knockoffs didn’t lead them to China, but to Poland where a company called “Chopper Garage USA” (as far as I know it’s not a US company, nor doing any business with the US) would cast the copies of their parts and sell them to Zodiac for distribution in Europe under the brand name of “The Factory”. (to hide the country of origin?) Just look at the parts and tell me if you think they are knockoffs or not.

3bis-EMD3-EMDOf course, Zodiac would have difficulties denying having knowledge of all the parts created and sold by EMD during these last 4 years since they are featured in catalogs, online, in ads and on many well known custom motorcycles (included the recent Jesse James’ Copper Bike.) Inside the cast copies featured here (Primary and Cam covers for XL Evo), are engraved signatures of  both “The Factory” and of “Zodiac.” Packaging of these parts is in a wood box, not a common way to do it… but exactly the way EMD does it. Inside Zodiac’s catalog, the alleged copies are presented as “American Made”. I guess it sells better with bikers than “Made In Poland” if it’s effectively where they are produced. “American Made”, if not true, would also fall under the category of deceptive advertising and of unfair commercial practice , acts both illegal in the USA and Europe. I must add that EMD doesn’t seem to know for sure if the copies were commissioned by Zodiac or if Zodiac only bought the copies (knowing or not they were knockoffs?) from Chopper Garage USA. 

4-EMDOf ourse, EMD is responsible for not getting their designs patented. But because of cost and time involved, how many companies in the V-Twin industry are financially able to patent parts everywhere their parts can be sold? Very few, and among them even less decide to go through the multi-country red tape process.  As I wrote at the beginning of this article, I don’t necessarily condemn inspiration. But I condemn plagiarism, production of knockoffs and presenting others work as yours without permission. It doesn’t matter for me if it’s legal or illegal or even unenforced in some countries. If you commit plagiarism, in my book you are a thief. The core issue has always been the lack of respect that some members of the motorcycle industry have for their competitors, especially when they are young companies with less financial means to defend their rights.

Due to EMD’s allegations, Zodiac International B.V. General Manager Ton Pels should provide an explanation to EMD and of course he can comment here in my website if he wants to deny EMD’s statements. In any case, independently of price, always order the parts from the original creator. You will probably get better quality and at the same time reward all those working hard at supporting our industry, taking risks, investing their own money, finding new ideas and creating new products for our riding pleasure.


31 Responses to “EMD Motorcycle Design Versus Custom Parts Distributor Zodiac. If It’s Not Plagiarism, What Is It?”

  1. 1 Bruzz Sep 2nd, 2015 at 8:07 am

    Well said Cyril. Good luck EMD and let’s see what comes from this.

  2. 2 Joshua Sep 2nd, 2015 at 8:09 am

    One story of knockoffs among many others in the mc industry where money, like in all businesses, is the main motivation.

  3. 3 P. Hamilton Sep 2nd, 2015 at 8:27 am

    I guess Cyril knows a lot of stories like that and could publish one every month. Hope EMD succeeds is stopping this knockoffs from reaching the market.

  4. 4 Sharkey Sep 2nd, 2015 at 8:30 am

    I’ve got a few EMD pieces on my ride; gorgeous stuff. Unfortunately, too many people put price before authenticity…sadly, there’s lot’s of support from indifferent consumers for “knock-off” goods.

  5. 5 smithncustom Sep 2nd, 2015 at 9:05 am

    arent they the ones who make the electric switch kickstart pedal. i would not buy anything from them solely because of that reason alone!!!

  6. 6 Oli Quatrevingtun Sep 2nd, 2015 at 9:25 am

    Fuck the Fake… I choose EMD parts for my bike and I hope that every biker will do the same.
    Long life for EMD.

  7. 7 Ronnie Sep 2nd, 2015 at 9:26 am

    Good job EMD for your parts. Good job Cyril for reporting.

  8. 8 Greeko Sep 2nd, 2015 at 9:29 am

    Copying. A daily occurence in all businesses. But not an excuse. Hope dealers and bikers boycott the imitator.

  9. 9 Dave Sep 2nd, 2015 at 10:04 am

    Well put, lets pile on the pressure and see how Zodiac respond.

    I say don’t buy inferior products copies or not.

    Yes I have purchased anEMD product, very happy, fantastic quality.

  10. 10 marcus Sep 2nd, 2015 at 10:29 am

    Based on my experience in the boat industry (where hull design ripoffs were rampant) it is nearly impossible to protect a design that is itself derivative of previous work. For example parts like auto fenders can not be protected (aftermarket fitment) which are off course the same shape as the original. It should be noted that a design patent is not the same as a utility patent which are easier to get.

    This in my opinion is a copy, but the EMD part is highly derivative of old primary covers too. The outline shape can not be protected as that is a “necessary utility” in that it has to fit the primary shape and bolt holes. In other words, all primary covers would have that shape and bolt pattern. If that outline shape could be protected then the original manufacturer would own that design patent and nobody would be able to make aftermarket parts. The shape and number of ribs between the two are different which would likely moot any protection assuming they could even get a design patent. The larger manufacturers (auto & motorcycle – and boat) watch attempts to patent designs and will quickly throw up a bunch of objections and lawyers at the patent office if someone attempts a design patent that is clearly derivative, so these small players really have little chance to get that protection.

    A good example of parts being “ripped off” or “derivative” is the “contrast-cut” trend among manufacturers. That style can be traced way back to the auto industry, and Harley had something similar on some of their 70’s wheels (purple and chrome if I remember right). So where is the line? Who ripped off who? A good discussion.

  11. 11 rb Sep 2nd, 2015 at 1:57 pm

    Marcus well explained,my post was stop for a reason i dont no why,i send a picture of a chopper in mid seventees from Sweden with a ribbed transcover so it been out there for many years.So Emd have copy somone else product thats it .

  12. 12 SIGFREED Sep 2nd, 2015 at 2:13 pm

    I am not a lawyer but I have about 20 years experience with this kind of thing.

    1. The relevant ‘patent’ here is not what many people understand as a functional patent (as in protecting a novel contraption), it is a ‘design patent’ (as it known throughout most of the USA) or a ‘registered design’ in other countries (eg some parts of Europe). It protects the aesthetic elements of a design.

    2. To protect such designs are not as expensive and something you must do if it is at all possible. I think in the US you can secure a ‘patent pending’ for a few hundred dollars.

    3. I really feel for EMD, but if they do not have ‘patent/design’ protection, then they do not have a case. In fact they risk legal action from the “other” party if they are not careful how- and what means they use to object.

    4. The brazen ‘copy-culture’ became the norm through cheap Chinese imports and it seems that unscrupulous copying has become an industry norm. While I am a fan of the MoCo – I have to say, some their efforts border on blatant copying ideas from the custom- and bolt-on fraternity (of late more so).

    5. In the end it comes down to the buying public, if they do not boycott copy-cats, the copy-cats will remain the fat cats. As it is far cheaper to sit on the side-line, like a vulture, then simply copy others and sell it cheaper and/or at a greater profit.

    6. Cyril is doing the right thing – NAME AND SHAME. But be very careful – you risk the legal wroth of the offended party (technically they have every right to copy you if you do not have formal protection).

    7. At least, if people are copying you, you can use it as part of your marketing campaign.

  13. 13 Mike fagan Sep 2nd, 2015 at 2:28 pm

    Crap copy’s that claim to be American made are just that. Crap
    However I remember similar parts for generator shovels, iron head sports and triumphs back in the 70s/80s. This is not a new design

  14. 14 Broke Biker Sep 2nd, 2015 at 2:51 pm

    Randy Simpson of Milwaukee Iron sold this style of ribbed cover in the 80’s and prior to this Imperial had a line of ribbed offerings around 1968.Billy McCahill from STD Development now has Imperials original tooling and has been producing the rib line for a few years now. Was there plagiarism on EMD’s part and you missed it Cyril?

  15. 15 SK Sep 2nd, 2015 at 3:05 pm

    I support originators, but this is an existing design to begin with, akin to those that ripped of John Harmon–replicated or replaced a product that is no longer produced. DNA ripped off Paughco, Vtwin did the same–offered european springers through the catalog and now produces their own version sourced in taiwan. Ultima with S&S carbs and motors, the list goes on.

    If you as a consumer want to buy garbage, go right on ahead. Me? I prefer to do the job right once, not run through several headaches replacing shit parts.

    The same token, I don’t buy from companies from Lowbrow and especially Biltwell that design their own products but don’t make the slightest attempt to produce domestically. Even if the quality is decent, which it isn’t.

  16. 16 Nico Sep 2nd, 2015 at 3:17 pm

    Thanks Cyril for this news
    Some history of the EMD compagny

    Based in a rural area in the South of France, EMD is a relative newcomer to the motorcycle aftermarket industry and has been developing ‘Vintage Parts For Your Modern Ride’ since 2012. From day one, EMD designer Francis Villedon set out to borrow visual elements from the motorcycle roots and hot rod past to allow today’s riders to outfit their motorcycles with parts that seem to come from a more ‘analog’ era. Joining forces with EMD’s president Nicolas Pigeyre, they channeled their passion and creativity while taking advantage of the company’s fast prototyping tools and technology to design an ever-growing range of vintage-inspired parts. From R&D to CAD, sand casting and finish machining, all operations are done in France.

    EMD parts got a good deal of attention in Europe right out of the gate. As its product line grew, both the European public and bike builders started using EMD for their projects. The motorcycle press was very supportive too. Encouraged by a healthy growth in Europe, EMD set out to explore the North American market, attended V-Twin Expo in 2013 and debuted its products at the Born Free Show in 2014, in California. EMD-USA was promptly established and is now serving the US market. Since then, builders big and small (including one Jesse James) work with EMD. Two out of 6 bikes competing this year in Hot Bike Magazine’s Speed And Style contest use EMD components. That’s not bad for a startup company with no sizable advertising budget. The parts must have done all the talking…

    But those listening weren’t all well-intentioned. One morning in late August, the EMD folks had a rude awakening when looking at their Facebook feed. A prominent European parts distributor with deep pockets, a large catalog and a extensive network of dealers was using the social media site to launch their new and ‘Exclusive’ line of parts. These parts more or less looked like carbon copies of EMD’s own products. It was all there: the rough, vintage texture of cast aluminum, the raised rib design, the contours and even the packaging. Subtle differences in grain thickness and rib layout seemed like the only clues that would allow a trained eye to tell the originals from the knock-offs…

    Condemning this action, EMD’s Chief Designer Francis Villedon explains that as a rule, EMD has never, and would never copy any product currently on the market. EMD looks to fill open product positions with innovative solutions instead of jumping on a band wagon and clutter the industry with redundant copies and knock-offs.

    A little over a year ago, EMD approached the California-based shop, Speed Merchant to develop alongside them a left-side engine cover for late-model Triumph Bonnevilles. On a hand-shake deal (in true biker style), Speed Merchant agreed to let EMD use the design of their existing line of Triumph bolt-on cam and sprocket covers to create a matching left-side primary and clutch cover. Today, you can customize your Bonnie both in Europe and in the US, and all over the world for that matter, thanks to EMD and Speed Merchant working together and not ripping each other off. Is there here a lesson to learn?

    Concerned with the latest attack on EMD’s intellectual property, W&W Cycles reacted by placing the following message next to all EMD product they sell on their website: ‘Not here! Yeah, there is stuff out there that almost looks like the real thing and costs less. Not here at W&W CYCLES, though. If you feel like supporting product pirates rather than the originators and makers of high-quality parts for your bike, fine with us. We’re gonna stick with the real thing.’ This is a classy move that demonstrates the true biker spirit that should all strive to uphold. So on the off chance that you have access to a computer and are somewhat connected to the motorcycle world, it shouldn’t take you long to discover the identity of the parts pirates.

    EMD urges you to get informed, to be a part of the conversation, to spread the news and stay on the lookout for imitations and rip-offs, whether they target EMD or the labor of love of other hard-working people and companies. Sharing the news and using social media to put to shame those who commit those reprehensible deeds is probably one of the best tools that we, as motorcycle industry members, have at our disposal.

  17. 17 Curtis Bruger Sep 2nd, 2015 at 3:39 pm

    Hey guys. I don’t think the problem is about the ribs and who can own this design. In the comment above Nico explains that EMD develops old looking parts for modern bikes. It’s on the principle of producing what looks like a copy for the same bike applications and to advertise American Made for these parts. Cyril reports and opened the conversation. A good thing. W&W Cycles is a big parts distributor, and for them to write “There is stuff out there that almost looks like the real thing and costs less. Not here at W&W CYCLES” is the right thing to do.

  18. 18 Nico Sep 2nd, 2015 at 3:47 pm

    Thanks Curtis
    And in this case the copy is much more expensive than our product
    They are crazy
    Our cam cover 158€ and zodiac one 240€

  19. 19 Craig Sep 2nd, 2015 at 3:52 pm

    It looks like EMD is now going to sell more parts. Ha!

  20. 20 Tom Ryan Sep 2nd, 2015 at 6:19 pm

    I’ve been told that in the custom car wheel business if you design a nice wheel, all someone has to do is to make three very slight changes to your original design and you’re SCREWED, patent or not! The already rich wannabe ASSHOLES who steal your designs outright are just NO TALENT SHITHEADS!

  21. 21 mike switzer Sep 3rd, 2015 at 6:13 am

    had a finned primary on my 1979 supeglide that I bought from Arlen Ness’s shop in San Laredo

  22. 22 Jeff Duval Sep 3rd, 2015 at 6:19 am

    Let’s fight with our wallets to support the small innovators and not ever purchase again from ARZODIAC making sure of the actual provenance when buying stuff online or from (their…) dealers 🙁 !…

  23. 23 Bob Parson Jr. Sep 3rd, 2015 at 9:19 am

    As bad as all this looks, there is very little EMD can do to protect this, other than bashing Zodiac on Social Media as they have done for the past 2 weeks.

    Design patents are very hard to enforce, anywhere in the world (different laws and regulations), especially if more than 17% of the “copied” product is modified (logo, grooves, bolt pattern etc…). Every part distributor does it from CCI to Drag Specialties and of course Zodiac. They have people on staff to source out products all over the world that will look similar or can be made with a similar design, especially if they are popular in certain markets.

    Take a look at exhausts designs, handlebar designs or even the ever popular extended bagger bags. Same concept. It is extremely expensive to patent anything and Zodiac, as any other company, has probably done their research before putting this on the market. Everybody in this industry has been copied one way or another, from Arlen Ness to Paul Yaffe. That’s just the game.

    Back in the 80’s I have seen those grooved primary covers in Northern Europe and parts of the US. HD actually used to have an OEM one too back in 1981. So who copied who?

  24. 24 ruben Sep 5th, 2015 at 4:42 pm

    Zodiac made the wrong step….EMD are 3 cool guys who put the word respect in their everyday beahaviour….except when you have intention to run into troubles with them….I guess time for apologyze will certainly never happen….

    I SUPPORT EMD ! not only because they are french or build terrific parts….


  25. 25 18Bravo Sep 5th, 2015 at 6:15 pm

    IMHO, the EMD parts look better. Let the market decide, and quit worrying about who copied whom. They’ll come out ahead.

  26. 26 mike corbin Sep 7th, 2015 at 11:54 am

    They used to say they ” Copy is the highest form of flattery “!

    i still can not get used to it after 48 years designing motorcycle parts.

    For a Winner to keep Winning, he should stay fast to market with quality.

    Copiers aways do not finish first, they need to be behind Winners, in order to see what is going on.

  27. 27 Blackmax Sep 7th, 2015 at 5:13 pm

    It’s a sad facts that everybody copies off everybody in this industy
    Like 18bravo said The market will Always decide
    what is a good product vs. what is crap

  28. 28 gg "Chopper Para La Vida" France Sep 8th, 2015 at 6:02 am

    I agree with you my friend Mike Corbin!
    ” Always copied …never Equaled”

  29. 29 barefoot jerry Sep 10th, 2015 at 11:33 am

    basically ……( let’s put left all these boring copy/plagiat questions )

    i think it’s a very sad proof of lack of imagination from Zodiac 🙁
    nobody here will make me believe Zodiac ( as a BIG-BIG society ) do not have a designers-team , working 24 hours a day at the ZOD-factory .

    Well .
    Me : i’m just a LONE guy and all the crazy idéas , R&D and design gets out of my LONE brain .
    So i can say to you here that EMD has not produced ALL the ideas i have : there are still MANY OTHERS interesting designs they could have done, trust me !

    I sincerely believe everybody here wilh a pencil and a sheet of paper could have found a NEW model ; a NEW design .
    Ribbed or not for both copyied EMD parts .

    So just tell me where is the réal benefit to DUPLICATE an already existing part ????????????

    This question is the REAL one .
    If you find the answer : please keep me informed coz i’m down in energy with these guys ….

  30. 30 Drive The Wheels Off Sep 12th, 2015 at 9:18 am

    There’s a fine line with patents depending on the product and/or the industry. Even if you get a patent, you have to have the cash to defend it b/c your stuff will still be copied. So, it is often best to spend that time & money directly in marketing instead of inside a courtroom of countries that care less.

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