I started Super Vision International out of a garage with my
friend, Roy Archer, in 1989. Over the past 17 years, we’ve
grown the company from a modest start-up that sold $50,000 in
fiberoptic lighting its first year into a publicly traded entity
that’s doing closer to $12 million in annual sales
Through the 1990s, we grew with remarkable speed and kept pace
with some of the other bulls on NASDAQ. Our sense of invincibility
was further fueled when we were named one of America’s 500
fastest-growing technology firms by Deloitte & Touche and
Florida Power/Progress Energy.
Little did we realize an unforeseen enemy was gathering at the
It wasn’t the burst of the high-tech bubble that nearly
got us. It was a new breed of economic terrorism emerging overseas.
Counterfeiters headed by a Chinese national (Samson Wu) and his
family had illegally stolen trade secrets. They were selling
unlicensed Super Vision products on the black
It started in late 1998, when I received calls from my British
and Japanese distributors, Garry Armitage and Keiji Yamada. They
said that counterfeits of our products were turning up in their
Garry said the counterfeiters had actually stolen our logo and
trademark in some cases. Meanwhile, Keiji had been contacted by
some Chinese outfit offering to sell him everything in the Super
Vision line for less than half of our distributor’s price.
This was actually less than our own production
Apparently, the Wu family had set up a network of dummy
corporations in 27 countries, including China, Panama, parts of
Africa and South America. They were operating under various names
and counterfeited everything from our fiberoptic pool lights to
Bulova watches and Kodak one-hour photo labs.
As I sat in my office listening to Keiji, the walls started
caving in. Later, in my book The Real War Against America
(Specialty Publishing Co., 2005), I recalled the exact moment and
sheer terror I experienced after that call. The passage reads as
“I said goodbye to Keiji, offering some words of hope as
I hung up. Deep inside, however, I felt frustrated and furious. I
had no idea how I would fight this faceless enemy, but I was well
aware of how devastating their acts would be to our business. I had
faced this type of theft before in a previous company. The results
“I had already known that we were experiencing a steep
sales decline overseas, particularly in Asia. But until then, I had
attributed this to just a decline in economic conditions. I looked
across my office at the many gifts from our foreign distributors. I
wondered how many of them had been approached as Keiji and Garry
had. I looked out my window and watched a snow-white egret plummet
through the blue Florida sky and skim the silvery surface of the
pond. His talons plunged swiftly beneath the water line, and he
emerged with his lunch.
“Predator and prey, I thought. Someone was now eating our
For the first time, the entire staff at Super Vision saw dark
clouds in their future rather than sunny skies. We had been a
company used to doubling its sales every year for nearly 10 years,
so the financial decline from the counterfeiting was like a train
Our troubles didn’t end there. FBI wiretaps eventually
revealed that the Wus had bribed our own director of research and
development, Jack Caruso. They paid him $1.4 million for siphoning
trade secrets to one of their American subsidiaries. Caruso was
aided by two of our shipping clerks, Jose Cruz and Ron Simon, the
last of whom confessed to the larceny.
We knew we had to do something or we wouldn’t last
through another season. We couldn’t sit back and let
criminals destroy years of our hard work. Once I finally regrouped,
I swore to bring the counterfeiters to justice or hunt them to the
ends of the earth.
With the help of the FBI, we later managed to track down Wu in
Florida and brought a civil suit against his family. Though the
U.S. attorney general refused to try the case against Caruso, we
ultimately won $46 million in our lawsuit against the Wu family.
But other than seizing a few million dollars of our counterfeit
products in the United States, we have yet to collect a penny of
Immediately prior to the verdict, the Wus encumbered all their
warehouses in the United States with loans and liens, and wired out
millions of dollars to overseas accounts. Some of the seized
counterfeits were later stolen by the Wus in violation of the court
order and shipped back to China. No doubt they are still
counterfeiting our products overseas.
We have kept the Wus out of the U.S. markets, and are still
pursuing them around the world. However, we had one lingering
question: How could we protect ourselves from this type of
intellectual property theft in the future? The answer was
innovation ... constant innovation.
The only way to survive was to reinvent our fiberoptic product
lines with new technology. We made much of what they’d stolen
obsolete with our new line of LED lights that is years ahead of our
We brought that new corporate vision to our dealers and
distributors, and they’ve remained faithful ever since. In
the past three years, we’ve seen our LED sales grow to almost
70 percent of our pool sales. This is a huge change from the nearly
100 percent product sales we had in the past from fiberoptic pool
This dramatic turn of events completely changed our company and
put us back on the road to recovery in terms of lost sales.
We’ve managed to rebuild our fortress on the foundation of
* Reprinted with permission from Specialty Publishing Co., Carol
Super Vision International Inc.
- The only way for
America to compete with theft and cheap labor is through constant
- In every great
crisis lies the seed of opportunity.
- Never give up.
- Your customers,
distributors and representatives will support you as long as you
possess optimism and a vision.