Quartz has got a great article up called "There's a trillion-dollar global black market for fake 'designer' chairs." Anyone interested in the problem of design piracy, and how to combat it, should give it a full read.
Here are some of the salient points:
- Leading the charge against design piracy is BeOriginal Americas, a nonprofit consortium of design firms and furniture manufacturers.
- BOA states that global furniture knockoffs are a $1.7 trillion industry.
- The Eames Bentwood LCW chair is "among the most copied pieces of furniture," and the Eameses began battling pirates of it in the early 1960s.
- The U.S. Customs & Border Patrol is now apparently receiving training on spotting design knock-offs; last year, according to the CBP themselves,
[We] seized 42 shipments of unauthorized replica furniture determined to be counterfeit iconic mid-century modern design home and office furniture. These seizures, involving goods that would have had an estimated combined MSRP of $4.2 million if genuine, stemmed from an e-allegation concerning persistent and widespread infringement. CBP's furniture enforcement efforts have helped to protect over 8,000 American jobs.
- Your average consumer doesn't understand the difference between design and style. Quartz cites Emeco CEO Gregg Buchbinder, whose chairs have been knocked off by everyone from Ikea to Restoration Hardware:
Buchbinder blames knock-off culture on a popular misconception of what "design" really means. "The design of the chair really starts with scientists, chemists and engineers working on the materials and the processes," he explains. "There's so much more to design other than the shape. I don't think the average consumer understands that, they think they're paying for the shape."
The full article is a long read but well worth it, particularly the part about how knockoff companies "can skip the years-long product development phase and often have an easier time selling their versions because consumers are already familiar with the look." Educate yourself here.
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That $1.6 trillion number would be absurd. It would mean that every single human on earth bought over $200 worth of knockoff furniture last year. It would mean knockoff furniture was equivalent to 10% of the entire US economy.
To add to that, their suggestion that if it weren't for the furniture knockoff industry the entire $1.4tn would be channelled into original brands is absurd. The kind of person willing to spend $400 on a knock off Eames recliner is not going to be the same as the kind who's willing ot stretch to $6000 for an original. The two markets are entirely different.
It boils down to a simple question, should IP be held in perpetuity?
As a fan of Rain's posts, I'm a bit disappointed for the lack of homework on this issue. Especially in the US, the claim of knocking off the classic mid-century designs is false. The source article was totally misleading to say the best. If those designs were patented, the patents had long expired. For copyright protection, the claim can be extended to maximum 25 years. Plus, copyright on product design has very limited scope and typically is not very effective. In any case, these designs has long entered public domain, as another reader Ray commented.
In the article's defense, they claim tradedress infringement. However, it's hard to see how everything a company makes can fall into tradedress when design patents exist.
I thought the article was poorly written. US design patents have a 20 year term. After that, the designs are public domain. This article is talking about 60 year old + chairs. These designs belong to all of us now to copy or modify.
As for the "skipping years of product development" argument. First, these designs are not R&D intensive. Second, you are only saving the ideation and ergonomics work. For such basic furniture as is shown, I think any experienced designer should be able to develop something similar in a month (full time). After that, you still have the hard work of sourcing a factory, doing quality control, negotiating, logistics, etc.