| by Angelica Mastronardo
I should start by saying I hate people who copy our designs.
Many companies in our industry, take an existing product and simply apply a logo, colour or pattern to make it their own. We are innovators and ahead of the game. Our ethos at black+blum is to thrive on the creation of original designs from scratch. We pride ourselves on our creativity.
Basically, those that copy take the fast track to market on the backs of others! Is it right? No, it is stealing,
Over our 20+ year history, we are no strangers to copying, it is the plague of companies like ours. Copies vary from heavily inspired pass offs, to exact copies that even use our brand name. Websites like Alibaba even list companies who use our photography to showcase their copies. Sometimes, it has even been our own retail customers who have seen our products selling well and then launched their own heavily “inspired” own label version. You’d think after all these years of being copied we’d have thicker skins and be less upset by it. The truth is it hurts every time and never gets any easier.
Our USP is our creativity and we pour our hearts and souls into every design that we work on. When someone copies us, they are stealing the idea, but also all the passion, effort and energy that we have invested in a new design. It is our sweat equity and original design ethos which has made our brand succeed, despite all odds.
For all our years of trading, we have been members of ACID (Anti Copying in Design). This amazing organisation was started by Dids Macdonald, OBE., in 1997. Dids started off as a designer, but after having her creations copied by larger companies, she got very angry and co-founded ACID to help other designers fight for their intellectual Property (IP).
ACID has helped thousands of designers protect their IP and take legal action against the people who have copied them. We have used ACID on many occasions to help us challenge and defeat the companies who have copied us. Campaigning has been the cornerstone of ACID and in 2014 the IP Act was passed, spearheaded by ACID, which culminated in a law that makes the intentional infringement of a registered design, a crime, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
At the end of last year, we discovered another brand that had copied our ‘slider divider’ design that we include in our stainless-steel lunch box. We could prove that the company in question had ordered a sample of our lunch box as soon as we launched it and then six months later, launched a lunch box that included a very similar slider divider.
We approached the company and thankfully were able to engage with them (this is not always possible to do). Their version of events was their Chinese supplier had offered the design of the divider to them and hadn’t realised that it was our creation. This is very typical and always a grey area. Whether it is true or not is not easy to prove. In some cases, the companies who buy a product from a manufacturer are innocent and not truly aware that they are buying a copy. In some case they know it is copy.
With our divider, we could have gone down the legal route of using ACID to challenge them on a legal basis. We had unregistered design rights, but because the divider only made up a small part of the complete design, we felt that whilst we had very strong design evidence, this would have been a long drawn out process and even if we had won, it would be costly and time consuming. This is not to say anything negative about ACID or taking the legal route, but in each case of copying you must look at the bigger picture and consider the scale of the copy and how it will affect your business.
We thought a novel and poignant approach would be to ask the other company to pay a royalty on the sales of the divider and give this towards ACID and help fund their British Design Champion nominations (on British Intellectual Property Day We were delighted that they chose to follow a positive alternative to dispute resolution..
Part of ACID’s success in promoting the logo as a brand of deterrence and “naming and shaming” but because the company who copied us has offered to pay a royalty on the number of dividers they sell, we have agreed not to name them. Otherwise ACID would have been tempted to include them in the “Spot the Difference” page on the website which is open to all designers to publish their originals and alleged copies. Not good for any company to be featured here!
There is something slightly ironic about this outcome, but we are pleased that something positive has come from it. It is highly unlikely that we will be able to achieve this result with every situation we encounter, but it feels good that we can get such a positive end result. If you have had similar experiences or found other innovative ways to deal with companies who have copied you, we’d love you to share them with us and ACID.
Intellectual property is a positive force for growth and the UK’s design community make a massive £85.2 billion pounds contribution to the UK economy. Why? Because we are very good at it.
A united voice is a strong voice and however IP infringements are sorted, the “me-too” culture of copying has got to stop!