Furniture Designer Fights Copying By Busting Up Some Chairs

from the a-picture-is-worth-a-thousand-copyrights dept

For the most part, furniture designs can't be copyrighted. Just like fashion, which thrives without copyright, the furniture industry serves as an excellent example of why intellectual property is not necessary to promote innovation and commercial success. Copying happens in these industries, and while it's sometimes fought on trademark grounds, the prevalence of cheap knockoff products is an unavoidable reality. But cheap knockoffs are exactly that, and they meet the demands of a different market segment, where low price is more important than quality, so the original designers can compete either by focusing on their strength in the high-end market, by entering the lower market with their own cheaper products, or both.

Reader Baruch Moskovits points us to an example of the former in a video from furniture designer Republic of Fritz Hansen, makers of the popular Series 7 chair, which has an iconic (and frequently copied) design. The company is legally powerless to prevent copying, so they took a more pragmatic approach: smashing the knockoffs to pieces on YouTube—not for the catharsis, but to demonstrate how much better their original Series 7 chair holds up.

If you didn't watch the video, suffice to say the two knockoffs snap like twigs, while the original withstands the same punishment without any signs of damage. Fritz Hansen has rightly recognized what it offers that others don't, and has found a high-impact way of demonstrating this advantage. Naturally some people won't care: they will choose affordability over durability. But those people were probably never going to buy a $500 chair anyway, whether or not cheap alternatives for that specific design are available. Meanwhile, customers who value and can afford top-quality merchandise see a clear demonstration of what they're getting for their money, and one that reflects well not just on the Series 7 but on Fritz Hansen's entire line.

It's extremely rare, in any industry, for one creator to copy another without adding or changing something—a lower price point, better marketing, a better distribution model, a valuable curation service. This is how copying expands markets: originators and copiers must both focus the things that make them stand out, which means finding ways to make a product appeal to new and different people. Strong intellectual property protections exist to shut down such copying, but as industries like furniture and fashion demonstrate, this is unnecessary and potentially quite detrimental. Beating your competitors in court only proves that you were first—obliterating their products on YouTube proves that you're better.

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Filed Under: copying, furniture, knockoff, series 7
Companies: republic of fritz hansen

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  1. identicon
    Lord Binky, 10 Apr 2012 @ 9:25am


    The problem is... consumers are human. And the overwhelming majority of humans like to think lazily. They can conclude on their own, with little effort, that items that last longer save money in the long run. Ex: It is cheaper to buy 1 high quality pair of shoes that lasts 2 years at $200 than to buy low quality shoes that last 6 months for $75.

    Consumers then want to construct the generalization that higher price = higher quality. There is no rule that this must be true, so... It gets fouled up fast. Here are a couple ,(I believe) common ways but definitely not all scenarios.

    Dr. Jekyll Scenario: Jekyll company spent it's time developing their brand through high quality high cost products. Then the company makes it big and eventually has to change, it becomes public (or is inherited/new CEO etc.)... DUN DUN DUN... Shareholders (or THE BOSS) say, Cut the quality, keep the price! We'll make millions, and people won't know the difference! *Snidely Whiplash cackle, and they all wear monocles*

    - This leads to massive consumer resentment and poor brand image faster than companies think. Consumers may want to be lazy but that's not to be confused with stupidity. There's a limit to how stupid (mostly) the mass will be, but infinitely lazy. Jekyll Co. may have sold them 100 high quality products, but they sell them one poor one, Consumers remember that more.

    The Con Scenario: Con Co. deliberately designs their product for appearances at a low cost. Then they get placement near high priced high quality competitors and charge a high price as well. Some people might buy their product because the product has superficial Zazz and is priced 20 dollars lower, or $200 dollars higher. Either way they are trying to trick the person and eventually will get someone who wants to save $20 bucks even after spending $500 or they will get someone who thinks the extra cost will be extra quality. Who needs repeat buyers when make lots of money from some suckers.. I mean customers...

    - Once again this is someone trying to take advantage of consumers wanting that lazy thought process of High Quality = High Cost. Con Co. doesn't have a brand name to rely on for a good reputation, but being close to a good brand name is close enough to get a few people. You only need one millionaire to buy a million dollar cup of lemonade to become a millionaire.

    Consumers don't like to use a generalization if it isn't mostly true. So the quit assuming High Cost== High quality, even though they know high quality is costly, they'll just buy inexpensive even if it will eventually cost more, just to save the trouble of finding high quality products. A few guys trying to manipulate customers ruin it for everyone.

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