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linden518
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Audio Note UK vs. Kondo Audio Note Japan?

Somebody should write a dissertation on the history of contentious catfights among audio designers, because God knows there is a wealth of supporting material out there! So many divas in this hobby, I swear...

Anyway, I was wondering about the split between Hiroyasu Kondo and Peter Qvortrop, one operating as Kondo and the other as Audio Note. I find it bizarre how Kondo, who created & built the brand Audio Note, conceded the use of the brand "Audio Note" to Qvortrop. What the hell happened? I found this politely salty posting by Kondo on AA, but is there more than meets the eye?

http://www.audioasylum.com/cgi/t.mpl?f=general&m=37527

It's all the more bizarre to me that Audio Note UK uses the same design principles and model nomenclatures as Kondo, i.e. Ongaku, IO cartridges, etc etc., when it seems, clearly, it was Kondo who came up with these designs & names. Can any of you explain to me how this could happen? Is it simply because Kondo was so naive as to not having had his designs and ideas patented & copyrighted? Even if so, how does Qvortrop have enough legitimacy in using much of Kondo's ideas & branding to build Audio Note as HIS brand and not lose his credibility in the world of hi-fi? Very interesting & I'd love to learn the history behind this, as it seems more twisted than Kondo's AA post lets on. If you work in the industry or are a writer & need to be politically correct & not sound off on this matter, pls feel free to PM me or email me at selfdivider@gmail.com; I'm genuinely curious.

Plus, I heard that now Kondo & Audio Note UK products sound pretty different, even with the adherence to same design principles... so, who's the genuine Audio Note, the real deal, soundwise?

Editor
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Re: Audio Note UK vs. Kondo Audio Note Japan?


Quote:
I find it bizarre how Kondo, who created & built the brand Audio Note, conceded the use of the brand "Audio Note" to Qvortrop. What the hell happened? I found this politely salty posting by Kondo on AA, but is there more than meets the eye?

http://www.audioasylum.com/cgi/t.mpl?f=general&m=37527

You can find Jonathan Scull's interview with Hiroyasu Kondo at www.stereophile.com/interviews/597kondo . Sadly, Kondo-san passed away in 2006: www.stereophile.com/news/011606kondo .


Quote:
I heard that now Kondo & Audio Note UK products sound pretty different, even with the adherence to same design principles... so, who's the genuine Audio Note, the real deal, soundwise?

I would regard them as two different entities, divided by the common name.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

linden518
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Re: Audio Note UK vs. Kondo Audio Note Japan?

Thanks for the link to the Kondo interview, JA. Seems that he was a man of rarefied & delicate sensibilities, able to discern and intuit elements in music that most of us cannot.

I'm still curious as to how PQ could legally and successfully claim the Audio Note brand and name, and operate a company based on Kondo's designs. From Kondo's post on AA, it seems that PQ was merely an UK distributor, and if Kondo-san's allegations are true, it would seem that PQ's usurpation of the Audio Note name and design philosophy would be regarded as morally suspect, at the very least? Again, I don't claim to know the whole story so this question is merely speculative. Both Peter Qvortrop & Audio Note UK seem to enjoy a healthy level of respect and credibility in the hi-fi world, so it's highly likely that I'm not getting the other side of the story, which is why I've started this thread. But based on the info that I've gleaned, and based on Kondo-san's own account of what happened, it seems like Kondo-san had the rug pulled from under his feet unfairly. If I'm totally off-base, enlighten me, pls.

tom collins
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Re: Audio Note UK vs. Kondo Audio Note Japan?

speaking legally, unless kondo-san went to court to enforce his rights (which he admits he chose not to do), then there is no "world police force" that will enforce them for him. the english bloke can go on using the name, designs and whatever else he chooses. there may come a time where the rights may no longer be able to be enforced because of a doctrine called "latches". in layman's terms, its piracy, happens all the time, not just in china but even by guys with sophisticated sounding accents.

judicata
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Re: Audio Note UK vs. Kondo Audio Note Japan?

I'm not an IP lawyer (certainly not in the jurisdictions mentioned), and I don't know the facts here. The "laches" (unlike the "latch" on a door) doctrine, which isn't specific to IP, is kind of like a non-statutory "statute of limitations." Basically, if you wait too long to sue someone, and you knew of the wrongdoing, you can't sue anymore. It gets more complicated than this, but that is the general idea. Various IP laws (copyright/patent) provide for time limitations along these lines, which is why some people aggressively pursue even seemingly minor infringments -- they want to keep their rights. (Also look up adverse possession -- it generally pisses people off at first glance).

If Kondo-san had a cause of action, someone else (heirs or other successors in interest) may be able to bring the claim.

Not knowing the facts I could be totally off, but I suspect that there's a contract or other agreement between these parties that provides for use of the designs etc. But maybe not. Even still, I seriously doubt it comes down to a poor sap who lost a race to the patent office or whatever (these cases are more myth than reality).

As tom pointed out, unless someone sues, it isn't an action that a government will pursue, generally speaking.

linden518
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Re: Audio Note UK vs. Kondo Audio Note Japan?

My guess is that there's probably a good reason why Kondo-san decided not to contest Mr. Qvortrop in court... I mean, the name "Audio Note" was the name under which he carefully cultivated his life's work. Legally right or not, if Mr. Qvortrop took that name away from Mr. Kondo with calculation, I'm surprised that the audio community did not react with a strong sense of outrage & repulsion against such practice. (Not knowing this history particularly well, and seeing Audio Note UK get respect & admiration, along with PQ, I'm only deducing...) This is why I suspect there's something that's not being told here...

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Re: Audio Note UK vs. Kondo Audio Note Japan?

Is it possible that they licensed the designs? While uncommon in high end audio, it isn't unheard of.

tom collins
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Re: Audio Note UK vs. Kondo Audio Note Japan?

SD: you are asking too much of the "audio community". they, we, are consumers like everyone else. personally, i think it is a real shame that kondo did not pursue this in the british courts. i am sure he would have prevailed as the british have a strong history of patent protection. with that said, there would have been a personal cost to kondo that he may not have been willing to accept. time and money surely, but i'll bet that he would have found the idea unseemly or distasteful of having to go to court to defend something that was his by right.
from all acounts he seemed to be an unusually thoughtful man. he may have believed that the people who care; ie the small group of people that knew and appreciated his work and his philosophy of music making would know the difference and that that was all that mattered to him. it is also possible that he was not really interested in business and money but just the work and his pursuit of perfect sound and as long as he had enough orders to keep him working, the rest didn't matter. we'll never really know, but he was certainly a man to be admired.

linden518
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Re: Audio Note UK vs. Kondo Audio Note Japan?

Thanks for the well-considered answer, Tom. One of the worst things that can happen to a creative person - writer, painter, and yup, audio designer - is to have a life's work somehow taken from your own authority. I didn't mean to indict the audio community generally, but my intent was to show that unlike in other fields where intellectual property is more zealously guarded & fought over, in audio, these things seem to happen with some regularity, unbelievably. (Another instance of design plagiarism is the article I read in 6moons, concerning various designers ripping off Keith Aschenbrenner's design for PHY-HP based speakers.)

I still remain curious as to what Peter Qvortrop's version of the story is. Without that missing piece, all of this is just speculation, of course.

tom collins
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Re: Audio Note UK vs. Kondo Audio Note Japan?

based on my experiences, i would say that peter has probably justified his actions to himself and told himself the story so many times that he has internalized it by now, even though this has nothing to do with legality.
sadly, i have to agree with you that there is an enormous amount of reverse engineering in audio, usually without paying the recognition due or the royaltys. most of the small victims just do not have the resources to pursue a claim. sadly, justice is usually for the wealthy.

Rappaport Amp One
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Audio Note UK vs Kondo Audio Note Japan

I'm a late comer to this thread, but seeing it still open for comments I'll
try hopefully to fill some of the blanks. I cannot say I know the whole thruth in these matters, but knowing one of the parties, Peter Holme Qvortrup since 1978 I've done my fair share of his travel with Kondo AN Japan, together with him.
I'll try and give my take on how things panned out as they did.
As Kondo rightly states somewhere P.Q. is a very talented sales person - perhaps one - if not thee most talented there is. But that would be to underestimate Peters many talents.
Peter has always posessed the most refined and secure taste in audio. In a market flooded with many different audio companies all striving to hold the mantle, Peter then an importer/ retailer, very early on as far back as the late seventies very early eightis discovered the outstanding abilities of mr. Kondo and Audio Note Japan. Before most anybody else, he began to promote Kondo's silver master pieces outside Japan. Firstly the M7 phono preamp, the AN IO and Soara carts besides the accompanying SUT's. There has never been a single doubt in Peter's mind that Kondo and AN Japan presented the utmost in audio. Thus Kondo could never have wished for a better, more devoted embassadore of his products than Peter Q. This eventually let the two of them dividing sales; Kondo would do all sales within Japan - Peter Qvortrup ALL THE REST OF THE WORLD.
Which might have been thee desicive factor, when it came to making a verdict on who'd done most to bring the company to the fame, recognition and world wide sales Kondo AN Japan enjoyed through the years - and especially during the nineties.
You can offer the best products on planet earth - but you somehow have to have talented dedicated people who can canvas, building the company's reputation. That's exactly what Peter did - and more, much more. Few people now the history of audio and its best products like him. As far as I can tell Kondo solely made giant 211 push pull amps when they first met. NO SET's. The famous SET Ongaku, Gaku Oh and the rest came to be BECAUSE of P.Q. - even the name "Ongaku". Thus most - if not all of what came out of Kondo AN Japan during the nineties, were inspired by thoughts of Peter Qvortrup - NOT so much by mr. Kondo.
Kondo later strikes back belitteling Peter saying he Kondo, and only he knew and understood electronics enough to actually build these silver clad master pieces. And Kondo is absolutely right about this. Peter has no formal education of electronics. But he's picked up enough insight during the years besides knowing the audio history inside out to know what counts. To further evidence all of this; Kondo KSL of today has more or less fully abandonned the thoughts and design ideas encouraged then by Peter Qvortrup.
Kondo KSL are back offering mostly push pull amps.
Bottom line: You cannot take away from mr. Kondo that it was he, and he alone who actually build these timeless classics - but at the same token must acknowledge that all - or mostly all of this might not have happened at all without the visions and inspiration and tireless promo work of mr. Qvortrup.
I hope my 2 cents might have added some of the missing pieces to the unfinished "jig saw puzzle" we know as; Kondo AN Japan vs AN UK.
I also want to stress that I'm no longer affiliated with neither party, and haven't been for more than 20 years.

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IP Law

There are significant differences in the various forms of Intellectual Property, and the rights and obligations of the owners or assigns of those properties.

With regard to trademark and trade names, the owner has a legal obligation to enforce his rights; that is if the owner becomes aware of an infringement, they must take legal action to prevent further infringement. The most common examples would be things like Apple (Records) suing Apple (Computer). Even though Apple (Records) probably would not have prevailed in court over the trade mark and trade name, Apple (Computer) twice settled out of court to dismiss the actions.

The trade name test is "would an ordinary consumer confuse the two"; in other words would an ordinary consumer confuse a Mac with a classic Beatles record product. This is distinct from the trade mark infringement, whereby the owner of the mark is required to take action, up to a lawsuit, in order to prevent dilution of the mark. "Dilution" happens when a trade mark begins to be used as a description of the product possibly made by others; two excellent examples are Aspirin and ASA, and Teflon and PTFE.

Note that the second action by Apple (Records) against Apple (Computer) was over the original settlement terms, where Apple (Computer) agreed not to enter "the music business". With the introduction of the iPod, the legal action was revisited. The second settlement laid clear the way for iTunes and the iTunes Music Store.

In the US, you can buy generic Aspirin because Bayer failed to properly protect their trade mark for ASA, so the mark was deemed invalid. In most other countries, only Bayer can use the term Aspirin to describe their own products, because in those nations Bayer successfully defended their mark by persistent legal action, so generic variants are only labeled ASA. DuPont also spends a great deal of effort to insure only their manufactured version of PTFE is referred to as Teflon; they are successfully defending the mark.

Note that the patent for PTFE expired many years ago; anyone can make it today, but that is distinct from the trade mark IP.

When it comes to copyrights and patents, the rules are different again. You are under no obligation to defend a patent or copyright; failure to do so will not render either invalid. You are free to begin legal proceedings or not, as you see fit. It's more relevant to copyrights than patents because patents expire after a relatively short period, versus copyrights which can last for a very long time.

For clarity, it must be said there is another form of IP, the industrial design. Confusingly, the US refers to industrial designs as "design patents". This leads to some examples where marketers can imply a functional IP where only a design IP exists (such as the Q-Ray bracelet). Most commonly used to defend things like furniture, or automobiles (the "kit car"industry) it protects certain design elements from counterfeiting. Audio Research has been known to prevent imports of copycat AR enclosures from entering the US from China via this form of IP. Like copyright and patents, the owner has no obligation to protect this form of IP but since it's abuse usually dilutes the original product's value, they often are.

Signatories to the World Trade Organization agree to enforce valid IP that exists in other signatory nations. So, despite widespread belief, China will enforce IP law if action is initiated by the owner from another signatory nation. The common issue in that case is the counterfeiter simply disappears and resurfaces under a new entity name, carrying on the same infringing practice as before. It's a game of whack-a-mole, in other words.

Although the above is correct, IP law has many nuances, and just because it appears there is, or is not, infringement, each instance is treated as distinct and the ultimate arbitrator is the courts, if it comes to that. In most cases it does not, but the option is there.

Furthermore, IP law is nation-specific. Some forms of infringement in one country may be legally allowed in another. An example would be "Fair Use", which exists in the US due to a Supreme Court ruling but not in most other nations. In some countries infringement is Criminal Law, while in most cases it is Civil Law, which affects enforcement.

Many non-infringing examples none the less result in a settlement, to avoid lengthy and expensive litigation. Bullying by large corporations against small operators is relatively commonplace. Because of this, individual examples should not automatically be construed as representative examples. In the above, I have endeavoured to provide examples that closely illustrate the strict legal interpretation.

chuongbeats
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Audio Note UK vs. Kondo Audio Note Japan

I really, really doubt when Mr. Rappaport Amp One admitted that Mr. Peter Qvortrup had no formal electronic education background but he "contributed" and "inspired" the Audio Note Japan's design. How come?
I really believe the fact that Mr. Peter Qvortrup has contributed to the sale numbers of Audio Note Japan products worldwide. But if he used that fact to take the Audio Note brand, it's not a good move. If he is a really "talented" designer, why he didn't use his talent to create his own brand? Many electronic designers have created their own brand after departing from the original company. None of the did the same thing as Mr. Peter Qvortrup did!
It's lucky that Mr. Kondo decided not to take legal action over IP in UK, as he said in his letter, he care more about the product quality, not money. And the buyers are the last to see which is the best.
I do think Audio Note UK makes good products. But regarding brand name, it's a very bad thing!

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