This is a think-piece that has been brewing for awhile, and it’s been sitting here brewing because I don’t really have answers. I’m just going to say right here and now that I’d like your opinions — reviewers, consumers, and store owners — on this matter.
There are three types of sex toy copycats in the sex toy world – one is a given and one feels like really shitty business practices – and the third? Flat-out counterfeiting which we see online in places like Amazon and Ebay and in shadier stores in large cities like we learned exist in NYC thanks to attending SHE NYC. The given: lower-cost sex toys that are merely “branded” and redesigned for various companies. Sometimes even different lines within the same brand. Some examples: Lovehoney’s “Cupid Smoothie” and then the line branded Annabelle Knight Oooooh! (the second of which is more expensive). Doc Johnson’s Black Magic bullet is the same as the Harmony bullet; Black Magic has a matte-finish PU coat and Harmony is shiny and slick, but Harmony has always been a little pricier. Even seeing the same thing across different brands like basic vibrators – bullets, that curved egg-on-a-stick design, etc.
But then there are patent wars and companies directly copying other companies designs which is NOT a matter of the manufacturing plant’s “book of blank sex toys” that companies come put their name on. Examples here are the We-Vibe vs Lelo Tiani (which is more concept than design rip-off), the Split Dildo vs Funtoys G-Vibe, the Fun Factory Big Boss vs Funtoys GJack, and various Blush Novelties or Pleasureworks vs Tantus product. Or the Fairy Wands and BodyWand brand – they are very much identical but one is made very cheaply (Bodywand). Fun Factory, publicly, didn’t seem to care much that Funtoys totally ripped off their design, but I think they’re a big enough company that it doesn’t bother them. Smaller companies care. You know who else cares? The fans of the smaller companies.
Blush Novelties – Twitter Wars and Quiet Design Copies
The most recent design rip-off, done by Blush vs Tantus, caught the ire of bloggers on Twitter. Blush decided to fire back publicly – insulting and being nasty not just to Tantus and Metis, but to bloggers who defended Tantus. DUMB MOVE, BLUSH. I saved their tweets in case the social media manager gets fired in the morning.
So yes, the tweets quickly disappeared. In DM’s to others, it is claimed that this person was a very new hire and has been fired. I personally call bullshit on this because what new hire would know all of this information OR be dumb/ballsy enough to behave in such a way? It would clearly be job suicide. I don’t actually believe for a moment that this was a new hire. Bloggers are being told that we’re (bloggers and certain manufacturers alike) spreading misinformation about their materials, insinuating that they’re safer than we think. The deleted tweet to Bex included in the screenshot shows that she talks about “gross porous materials” NOT saying it’s toxic, while the Blush person tries to roundabout claim they’re using non-porous TPE….um, no. Fuck you. But, this goes beyond the tweet claiming that some medical supply companies use TPR (which yes, there is a medically-safe TPE/TPR material but it’s expensive and I refuse to believe for a moment that a company making super-cheap TPE sex toys is using a medical-grade non-porous TPR). Really? We’re “manipulating the public”? Yes. That’s my goal here. Sure. Come ON Blush! Seriously? Seriously. Blush is also stating that “Tantus started it” with the design rip-offs, but no one but Blush seems to know what this is about. Really adult way to behave, Blush.
Yes, Blush, you do have plenty of silicone products, but you state ON YOUR OWN WEBSITE that you use materials like PVC and TPE/TPR that are porous. This is my big complaint, porosity. I will recommend porous TPR only when there’s literally no other option and with plenty of warnings and education – which is more than you do. No one is saying TPR is toxic but porosity fucking matters. I would like to see a giant fucking apology from Blush on their bullshit statements, their treatment of people during that now-deleted Twitter exchange, and for them to remove their head from their ass. I will pepper my site with caveats about Blush as a company during the few times I recommend their silicone products; I will recommend other brands above theirs, even if they have the same product for cheaper. Ethics matters, Blush.
Update: Blush Novelties not only unfollowed but blocked nearly all bloggers on Twitter by Sunday afternoon. Very adult.
Split Dildo vs Funtoys – Patent War Turned Blogger Harassment
The Split Dildo creator; he’s been fun. He cared so much about his design being copied that he started harassing bloggers who had reviewed the G-Vibe. He would email them and try commenting on their reviews with (empty) legal threats, telling the bloggers they had to remove their review of the G-Vibe because it was a patent violation. Whether or not this is true isn’t my concern and isn’t the concern of the bloggers; we are legally on the hook for our review from the companies who provided the toy to review, even if that company is Funtoys – we HAVE to keep those reviews up because we entered into an agreement. If the Split Dildo guy has an actual case then he should be talking to Funtoys, not us. After all, Standard Innovations didn’t come harass bloggers who had reviewed the Lelo Tiani; not even after it was banned for sale in the US for a few years.
If there is a valid patent that Funtoys has violated then I empathize with the Split Dildo dude but it still gives him zero right to harass the bloggers and threaten us. He not only has zero understanding of how this all works, but seems to not even understand what we say to him. A year later after I told him that he legally has no right to harass us and ask us to do anything with our review, he’s still at it and even telling some bloggers that he’ll go to court to get us to remove our posts. He feels our reviews somehow are discrediting his reputation. So what can happen here? At worst, the Split Dildo guy wins a case and it is decided legally that all reviews and written mentions of the Funtoys G-Vibe be removed. He still cannot be the one to come tell us this, it would have to be Funtoys or the retailers we received the product from. That’s it. He can’t do anything about the rest of our blog and reviews, because it’s not about us it’s about Funtoys.
I’ve reviewed both products and, aside from the Y-split, they are different in every way – size, silicone shore strength, flexibility….one’s a damn dildo, the other is a vibrator. But still. If his patent is valid, if his complaint is valid, then I empathize but if he’s just butthurt that Funtoys made it work and he didn’t? Not cool.
What Can We Do?
So that all said….what can we do as bloggers, and even retailers, when duplicates like this happen? Do we boycott entire companies in cases like Funtoys, Blush Novelties or Pleasureworks? Or do we simply never recommend/carry the imposter sex toys? Blush Novelties is not a company I respect, but I can’t ignore that they do have some really decent silicone products that are affordable (and NOT rip-off designs) and many people need affordable silicone sex toys. I’m reluctant to boycott the entire company, but will always promote the better brand over them if I can. At what point do we say “this is a company taking a product that is good and trying to make it better”? In many ways, as much as I truly hate to admit it, Lelo did the “couples’ PIV vibrator” thing better than We-Vibe. I’ve always liked the Tiani better. If the patent on a dual-motor c-shaped vibrator meant to be worn during PIV sex wasn’t a thing, would anybody be bothered much by it? I wasn’t.
I think we need to look at the bigger picture. See how companies react. When a company starts to react like Blush…when you look at their overall line and see so many problematic things…you have a decision to make. Do you hold the entire company accountable for someone who shouldn’t be anywhere near social media, behaving like an ass? I don’t know. I think that WE care as bloggers/retailers…but do consumers?
When faced with a patent war that is smaller that has not seen legal rulings, the answer is clear: We listen only to lawsuit rulings. We can change our reviews to say hey, I’m not sure who is at fault and who ripped off who, but here’s what I’ve been told. Let the customer make up their mind after hearing what we know and what we feel.