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In a move that restricts consumer freedom and damages small local companies, the Whirlpool Corporation is attempting to corner the market for replacement water filters in their popular fridges. Whirlpool has already begun legal action against smaller filter manufacturers who create identical filters for a fraction of the cost and made by Americans in the USA, not imported from overseas.
Featured Image by Stephen Mayes
For what seems by many as a way of forcing customers into buying expensive OEM filters from the company. Not only is this bad for the consumer, but it also discourages innovation in water filter technology. Whirlpool’s aggressive stance toward aftermarket filter manufacturers is backed by their broad, high-level patents. These patents concern the way filters fit into their fridges, as well as the shape of the filter itself. The interesting thing to note is that these patents do not cover filtration technology, only the shape, and fastening of those filters.
Photo by Claire Anderson
So if smaller independent companies can make an aftermarket filter that works better than a Whirlpool filter. They get sued by the giant for patent violations which are not necessarily violations. However, the little guys do not have the cash to go to court. So they are forced to stop selling the aftermarket to avoid exorbitant legal fees to support their cause. Moreover, who does this hurt, in the end, the consumer of course.
The Whirlpool brand of a popular filter, the Filter4 on average will run you around $60 for one filter. Compared to other comparable aftermarket filters that can cost 60% less and cost about $24 for one filter. It is starting to make sense as to why Whirlpool may want to get the aftermarket companies fleeing from creating similar products or even improving upon them. This is what some would possibly call a monopoly in the making and an attempt to dominate a market.
Photo by Ameen Fahmy
Using patents as a way to stifle competition is a strategy that is increasingly used by large companies. Smaller companies are often run out of business by large competitors bringing lawsuits against them over small and innocuous patent violations. By lodging these patents and defending them, Whirlpool has made it impossible for any third party filters to be legally produced for their fridges. From a consumer standpoint, this is the worst possible scenario. Without competition from aftermarket producers, Whirlpool can and does exorbitant rates for replacement water filters.
While these filters do fit Whirlpool fridges, they are not a direct copy. In some ways, they improve on Whirlpools design. One example of this is the UKF8001 filter, which operates at almost the same capacity as the Whirlpool branded filter, yet costs 60% less to purchase.
In response to this competition, Whirlpool has not improved their design or lowered their price. Instead, they have taken legal action against smaller companies as a way of removing competitors from the market. In the process, they are only offering the option of OEM filters which causes them to hold a monopoly and force customers to pay the high price for their filters.
Photo by Jez Timms
Although this may seem like an obscure legal fight about water filters, it actually has wide-ranging implications for consumers of all products. High-level patents like those lodged by Whirlpool stifle innovation and are bad for the consumer. The scary thing is that this is not just happening in this industry. Other small companies are attacked every day by large corporations enforcing high-level patents, and most consumers will never hear about it.
What can you do with this information?
We ask you to investigate, test, and find what product best suits your needs. Just because the price is low and is not a household name, that does not mean the product is terrible. Next time when you are looking for a filter for your home for whatever application, try an aftermarket filter and see how it holds up. You may be surprised, and you would be supporting Americans and the satisfaction that comes with keeping products made in the USA.
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