Nicholas Baker is a talented industrial design student at the Savannah College of Art and Design. A little over a year ago, Baker designed this Prism Nightlight:
The goal of this project was to explore a personal light device and create an innovative product taking inspiration from a notable designer. I researched the subtle subconscious cues from Naoto Fukasawa's design philosophy, along with his playful attitude to create my design.
The Prism is a simple night-light inspired by the classic see-saw. The light is turned on by a single tilt of the product.
Although Baker submitted the design to the Chicago-based Unbranded Designs platform, it does not appear to have gone into production. So imagine Baker's surprise when he came across the following webpage:
Not only does China-based online retailer AliExpress have the lamp listed as one of their products, priced at US $63.11; to add insult to injury, they've stolen Baker's actual photographs of it, and are posting it as if they're the actual product images!
This is just beyond the pale. What's not clear is if AliExpress ever actually produced the knockoff, as there are no photos of their own, and the lamp is listed as "no longer available." Was it ever available? Is it possible that this shadiest of companies was at one point simply collecting payments for an object that they not only did not own the rights to, but never even bothered to produce?
"I just don't know enough about the legality of these things to know what rights I have," writes Baker, who designed the project in November of 2014, on the Core77 boards. "Anyways any help or contacts would be greatly appreciated."
Baker, I'd say you're going to have to contact an attorney, but I cynically suspect you'll never be able to squeeze a penny out of AliExpress. Anyone have any advice or personal/professional experience in this area?
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Hi, Dan Black here from from black+blum
working in china and taiwan for 20+ years i learned 2 things:
I saw this one as well. While it is a copy, they've clearly designed their own version... and they didn't use my photos.. so no bad feelings there.
Nicholas, you are being far too generous. They didn't "design their own version" - it is a crappy copy, but a copy nonetheless!
Agree with Kirk Dyer, this is not a new phenomenon. AliExpress is a portal just like Amazon and eBay. It is the direct-to-consumer arm of Alibaba which is the famous supply-chain platform for businesses seeking Far-East factories. They take no responsibility for self-policing the legitimacy of the products posted on their website (from my experience - much like Amazon and eBay).
Ali-Express and Alibaba are a scourge! Amazon isn't much better, but at least Shopify will shut down someone's website if they are ripping you off. I had 2 Chinese companies using my imagery on Alibaba along with CAD screenshots of their hasty knockoff DURING my Kickstarter campaign... It's the freakin' 'Wild East' out there. Lawless.
I had a design stolen by the factory that was making my housewares product. A 'U.S. company' just bought it from the factory showroom in China; a line-up of goods that were 'available for sale'. I approached the U.S. company and they agreed to cease and desist, but since they had ordered a large quantity of the 'crappy cost reduced' version of my design, it popped up on Amazon the next year. I complained to Amazon, and it remarkably, it went away. I bought one of the knocked off versions to check it out-- it was barely functional. Just know that whatever you make in China will be knocked off and sold around te world if possible.
Geraint, yeah, I looked at that Alibaba posting. I wondered if the Chinese even really knew the purpose of your design.
Great comments below and just about every concern seems to have been covered - I could add horror stories of my own (and even a few enforcement happy-endings) but it won't do anything except drudge up my anger...so I'll add only this; everyone must assume that the second they shed light (no pun intended) onto an idea or product in any public forum, through any submission or to any interested parties - that starts the clock to a potential ripoff.
Until this past decade, most Far East cultures still viewed duplication of ideas and products as a compliment to the original holder of that IP - it will take decades longer to continue changing that notion. Our ideas are only milliseconds away from someone with the wherewithal to duplicate them - make them - market them - sell them. My company constantly uses Far East suppliers and prototype shops but we know the caveat is we've then lost ownership of those parts from the second they see them, receive the data, etc. There are precautions you can take, for instance, we've manufactured multi-part assemblies in different regions of China simultaneously (with assembly Stateside after the fact) so that party A doesn't know party B and if assembly A is ripped off, it'll be useless without assembly B, etc.
Contacting an attorney in this case would be futile and result in costs accrued with absolutely no result. It's sad to say that but completely true. I wrote an article on LinkedIn recently about a related topic - whether to patent or not...might be of some value (link is here in this post).
This is very typical to Chinese culture where being copied is a form of flattery.
"Baker submitted the design to the Chicago-based Unbranded Designs platform, it does not appear to have gone into production."
Living in Shenzhen China for 7 months now... saw it all.
Wow.. that's crazy
I had the exact same problem, they even stole my 3D renders of the product. Their version is cheap and effectively the same price. It pops up on Amazon and Ebay relentlessly. Unfortunately for a new design start up by a student with a great idea, how can they raise the capital to protect their product in all countries of the world. Its just impossibly expensive. Not only that but the best and largest companies in the world have the same problem,. I took it as a form of flattery and move on. Chinese military green lights hacking of western products from green energy (Wind Turbines) to weapons systems (F-35) and directs them to government controlled companies that then set up factories to undercut their direct competition. Its costing the U.S around 1 trillion a year if you equate the loss in trade accumulated in that lost business over 10 years. Its unsustainable. Either be beaten or join them. Their government doesn't play by the rules one bit.
That sucks on so many levels.
Assuming they are actually being sold, if you somehow find out what companies are buying your design from AliExpress, you may be able to sue them instead.
Well, just one correction regarding the article. AliExpress is not an online retailer, it is a platform that 3rd parties can sell on. It is a bit like Amazon market place.
(correct version of comment)
I am quite disappointed by what is mentioned. But I am also slightly perplexed about what is not mentioned, which is, from what I can see at least, the design this object was probably "inspired" to: the 1988 "On/off" lamp by Luceplan, designed by Santachiara, Meda and Raggi.
As this article complains about unfair copies, it seems to me correct... render unto Caesar what is Caesar's.
Nice! I haven't seen that, thanks for posting. As for rendering unto Caesar, here was the original inspiration..
I am quithttp://illuminazione.webmobili.it/p-21990-on_off-luceplan-lampade_da_tavolo-.html http://illuminazione.webmobili.it/p-21990-on_off-luceplan-lampade_da_tavolo-.html e disappointed by what is mentioned. But I am also slightly perplexed about what is not mentioned, which is, from what I can see at least, the design this object was probably "inspired" to: the 1988 "On/off" lamp by Luceplan, designed by Santachiara, Meda and Raggi.
As this article complains about unfair copies, it seems to me correct... render unto Caesar what is Caesar's.
The story is actually disappointing, nothing to say. But I must point out another disappointing fact: no one cited a much older design that, probably, was "inspiring" this new one. I refer to the 1988 "on/off" lamp by Denis Santachiara, Alberto Mada and Franco Raggi, produced by Luceplan...just to be fair.
This doesn't only happen to students, it's happening to professionals like me
all the time .... I am sick of it, makes you either wonder, what kind of Designers
these Companies are hiring ... or they just don't want to pay a good Designer,
so the hire inexpensive Designers who's only job is to search the Internet (or Stores) for great Concepts and Ideas to be knocked off! The laws need to be adjusted, to protect those which actually have the ideas and brains!
Didn't read all the comments, so don't know if it's been said before me. But basically, what they do is that manufacturers are always on the lookout for nice designs to make money of. They have no intention of really making the product, unless they get a lot of interest on AliExpress/ Alibaba. And if enough people will ask them to make it, they'll figure out how to and do it.
We had just that case about a week ago, which happened to one of our clients at the studio I work for. He's a young inventor and just finished raising the funds he needed on KickStarter. Several days before the campaign ended, the product was already listed on AliExpress with our sketches, renderings and photos of working model that we did for him in China.
For him it was a complement, but no doubt he's about to lose money because of it, and there is absolutely nothing one can really do once it's out there. Reverse engineering is easy enough, and once the product is available for all to see, you just have to beat them in your marketing, and remind your clients that your product is superior in safety, your guarantee, materials and finish quality etc.
It's still being offered : search for night light seesaw It's $50- $80 a unit - wow that sucks
Comment on this
If Baker brought his product to market, he might do well.
Nice design. This is a continuing problem with China. I have found that notarizing a design date stamps it as your design. (Done on that date) If the copy of your design is successfully marketed in this country you can then challenge the manufacturer successfully especially if they have used your images.
I've seen my products knocked off and then turn up at trade shows, so I've researched this a bit as well. Once of my clients has opened a sales office in China in part to combat piracy. A couple of things to note here are that China does have IP laws that are enforcable and if you have a presence there you have some path to protecting your work at the source rather than trying to stop vendors here at the border. Additionally, we have learned that Chinese consumers value authenticity so establishing and building your brand there helps to inform the public and further protect your IP. I realize that this is likely a prohibitively expensive step for students, but worth noting generally.
Ever wonder why all photos of a particular type of item on Alibaba are exactly the same? Or why so many sites don't actually have that item? It's enough of an issue that they clearly state on their website that they wish to be alerted if the item offered for sale is not in fact being offered at the moment.
No surprise there. Same reason why platforms like Etsy, Ebay and even recently launched Amazon Handmade are flooded with copycat and/or fake merchandise. Fighting against Alibaba or a Chinese seller in China is verging on the futile - time consuming, costly, enervating. I would believe the best form of "protection" and receiving due credit for a design is to launch the genuine device at quality fairs, blogs, magazines and/or have it produced and sold through legitimate U.S. and European dealers or crowd-funding schemes.
Every comment simply doesn't matter in China. I lived, worked, and designed there for five years. They will copy and sell anything. It impossible to police it. It's a harsh reality but that's reality. If it's not advertised on Ali express there's other chinese web base markets you simple can't access in the USA. In addition to that there's thousands of knock off markets in China that sell replicas, money is king in their country. Is it wrong...yes but you should look at it as flattery if anything. Take a trip to yiwu, shenzhen, or hong kong. You simply have to admire the resources they have to duplicate products.
This is crap. Maybe call Donald Trump, he'd love to get on the case.
unless you patented the mechanism that allows the lamp to be switched on in a sea saw motion in the context of a light ?
Lived in China for some years, we had clients coming all the time with real pictures and catalogs of other company products asking us to just do the same product. If you have the money someone can fabricate it for you in china. is very common and unstoppable, unless you are selling it now the only thing you can do is be proud someone really liked your design.
Just something else to note. If you check out the link, the fourth image is not mine. The vender created an actual copy. If you look closely it lacks a simple divot on one side, which mine has.
You might need design patent protection in U.S and other countries to protect for Chinese company selling the product outside of China.
First of all, I agree with one of the readers: this has little to do with Aliexpress. Legal action against Alibaba probably will not take you anywhere. But that doesn't mean Baker cannot use them as his leverage. Here are my suggestions:
The person who is selling on Aliexpress, is probably just doing research to see if there is demand for the product. If there is a demand he or she will find a factory in China to make it. No body going to copy something if there's no proof of demand for the product.
Regardless it is quite interesting to see a vendor wholesale ripping off a concept. I wonder how they arrived at their chosen price. Without any unique photos one must assume that the object was never produced.
Because he is a student, Mr Baker should ask himself some questions about how the design in question was created & how the rights were secured to know the provenance:
Creating a product in the context of a design school exercise does not transfer the ownership of intellectual property rights to the school. I speak as former dean of a design school and as current professor at Swinburne University of Technology in Australia and at Tongji University in Shanghai. Neither these schools, nor any others known to me, claim the rights to student work. This kind of claim would also influence the rights to written projects, assignments, and thesis work in research fields, where students clearly own copyright to their own work. Only in cases where students work as paid employees on a university-funded project would the university possibly be able to claim intellectual issues property rights, and only with proper notification. The author of these comments is offering incorrect legal advice.
Just as an FYI:
No, someone can't patent shop sticks, or the wheel. But they can patent a certain type of chopstick, or wheel that possess a unique feature. There are criteria for what can be trademarked, patented...
Having little knowledge about patent law, I couldn't believe "first to file" would work as it might sound like. Does this mean we can file a patent for wheel? or gears? or spoons, chopsticks...? There must be some kind of interpretation on the boundaries of this rule.
though he could have registerd the design so not the function but the shape , much cheaper than a patent but harder to uphold , as if the shape is changed a bit easy to et round. but again would only be usefull if someone was trying to import it to sell withing the reagon it is registerd , not just an off shore online seller
Schools own their students work? No. Schools do not own the rights to student work.
No social media site, anywhere, owns the rights to photos posted by members.
i have a few friends that sell craft goods of their own design online, some through places like Etsy. Both have had designs completely ripped off, one to the same level as actual pictures being reused.
In the end, all you can do is call them out, and ask for them to take it down, but if you do not have a design patent, or trademark, there is nothing legally you can do to stop them.