Catching my breath from the wave of trade shows that happen over winter and into spring including; KBIS, ICFF,
ISH, Salon de Mobile and the HD show, my take-away is that there are many manufacturers and brands who continue to push the design envelope to create original and unique products. There are also some who seem to take their ‘inspiration’ from others. I’m talking about ‘knock-offs’.
The expression ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’ actually is a damaging expression when played out in our industry. I’m not being naive, I know that at its core, a faucet can be considered just a ‘water-delivery system.’ In our world we know a decorative fixture is so much more. Any manufacturer who has created a faucet that they have fully designed, carefully thought out and patented should be confident that their design is unique to their brand.
So how is it that ‘knock-offs’ hurt us? Why should we care? Even more importantly, why should the consumer care? To put it in terms that everyone can understand;‘knock-offs’ diminish everyone who uses them. Buying a
‘knock-off’ may save the consumer money, but it hurts the economy, reduces profitability and encourages the theft of what we know as intellectual property.
Intellectual property refers to a number of distinct types of ‘creations of the mind’ for which a set of exclusive rights are recognized. This is also known as patent law. I’m not going to give a dissertation on patent law or the rights to which manufacturers who have patents applied to their designs are protected. I will give you an example of how important patents are to a brand: GRAFFhas over 50 patents for faucet and handle designs in its portfolio. And I’m sure many other manufacturers have patents on their original designs. Too many patented designs are not the problem: manufacturers who continue to ignore patents and design products with virtually the exact same look and feel are the problem. The cost to enforce patent infringement is exorbitant and prohibitive to manufacturers. The question of course is how to stop the piracy. And whose responsibility it is to respect the patents that manufacturers have.
The R&D costs to develop and create a design require enormous time and effort; up front costs are quite high and that’s not including engineering, testing and tooling costs. So when a design is knocked-off by a manufacturer who can take that design and bring it to market more quickly and more cheaply (because they’ve bypassed all of the previously mentioned steps) – the consumer has every right to be confused and interested in buying a less
expensive version. How would they know?
This again begs the question of whom and how any of this should be policed. Barry Goldberg, owner of Union Hardware, a high-end kitchen and bath showroom in Bethesda, Maryland, subscribes to the phrase, “differentiate or die.” He makes sure his showroom carries products that are well differentiated; offering his clients top-of-the-line products from many manufacturers across many different design sensibilities and price points.
ISH trade show producer, Messe Frankfurt, in Germany, has taken it upon themselves to rigorously go after knock-offs. They call it “Messe Frankfurt against Copying." This initiative ensures that exhibitors and visitors are fully informed about the registration and assertion of intellectual property rights. Over the years they have physically confiscated hundreds of knock-offs during ISH. This is a level of support that we think manufacturers would like to see here in the United States as well. Every trade show should take a closer look at their policy. Trade shows work hard to bring value to their exhibitors, and if the shows are becoming “malls” for imitation artists who can get these
knock-offs to market faster than the original manufacturer, everyone loses.
Outside of trade show policing, what else might be done? As a Director of the DPHA, I’ve had many discussions with my colleagues, and the consensus is that even at the showroom level, we must have an awareness of, and respect for a brand’s identity. Showroom owners need to educate their employees and customers about what good design is, and about the manufacturing process, so they will understand that a product made with lesser materials under lesser controls that ‘looks’ like a faucet design they like is just bad business. And purchasing such product is a bad investment in their home or project. As with everything, integrity should be considered. Even for something that is a‘water-delivery’ system.
Keeping it real and as always, Happy Selling!