From the glossy and the tactile to the litigous, Dwell's June issue (on newsstands now) covers every facet of interior design, including a piece that addresses the touchy subject of knockoffs and authentic design. Continuing what we started with "The Real Cost of Rip-Offs," today we talk to Richard Joseph, who, along with his twin brother and co-founder Anthony, have been fighting Chinese counterfeiters on behalf of their company Joseph Joseph. In and out of court for the past two years, team Joseph won a hard-fought lawsuit this April that will stop (for the time being) the reproduction of their original design for the Index™ Cutting Board.*
The British company is nine years old and started manufacturing in Asia in 2004, where they visit the market six or seven times per year and still maintain "trustworthy supplier relations there." Once Joseph Joseph started showing at the Canton import/export fair, the biggest home and lifestyle show in the region, they started noticing a surfeit of almost-exact copies of Joseph Joseph's Index Cutting Board. Richard is quick to point out the difference between a knockoff ("using a different material or color or size, where if you look closely enough you can tell") and counterfeit (a product that looks virtually identically, where the seller is "marketing it as your product").
In this case, the rip-offs were lacking the Joseph Joseph logo, but seemingly nothing else. Richard reports: "We realized we had a major problem. The main offender, Ningbo John, was very aggressive and thought we didn't have any right to approach them. They had actually registered these products in China as their own and even registered our company name there!"
A light-handed approach wasn't going to cut it, so Richard and Anthony Joseph hired local lawyers in Hong Kong and mainland China, sending local police to investigate reports of copied products and waiting for more substantial intellectual property legislation. Though they've prevailed against one counterfeit operation, Richard says they are "fully committed to this for the long haul," and that they spent more money last year on IP than on product design, simply to protect their own in investment in research and development. Another downside? Knowing that the Ningbo John group has already managed to make $40 million from exporting the fakes.
His main beef with the issue is simple. "The problem we've got with the knock-off product is that the retailers who support them argue that they're giving their customers 'good design' at a low price point," he says. "But our products range from $3 to $65!" So by copying some that's already affordable means benefiting from a brand like ours who invest in product development. I think that is wrong."