Locking Out The Pirates
Bloomberg Businessweek|August 17 - 24, 2020
Locking Out The Pirates
The maker of TSA-approved locks says trust-but-verify is the key to fighting counterfeiters
Kari Soo Lindberg

Tim Meade had known the owners of the Chinese suitcase manufacturer for years, well enough to have spent many late nights sharing shots of high-octane Moutai liquor and swapping stories of family, friends, and vacations. So it was tough when Meade, general manager of Travel Sentry SA—which licenses locks that can be opened by airport security officials— discovered that the luggage maker had been underreporting the number of bags it had produced with the locks, effectively stealing the technology. It was even tougher three months later when he discovered the company cheating a second time—a total of 4 million unlicensed locks.

On a cold January day in 2019, Meade marched into the factory 300 miles west of Shanghai, took the owners into a conference room, and showed them his evidence: locks from the factory with unauthorized copies of Travel Sentry’s logo, a red diamond. Meade didn’t like the idea of losing his fifth-largest client, with sales of almost 4 million licenses a year. But he couldn’t let his now- former friends get away with pirating millions more, so he canceled the contract and blacklisted the company. “We call it killing the chicken to scare the monkey,” says Meade, a 55-year-old American based in Hong Kong. “We have manufacturers who tell us, ‘We know you guys are serious about licensing removal. We’ve seen what you’ve done to others.’ ”

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August 17 - 24, 2020