In September, from fashion to furniture, the UK becomes a hotspot of exhibitions and design events such as the London Design Festival; a magnet for design buyers and the retail industry who come to do business to the UK in what is one of the most innovative countries in the world. Remarkably, in a digital age, showcasing new designs is a still a preferred route to market. But exhibitions and shows can be a copyists’ paradise. Taking the fast track to market on the back of another’s design equity is rife. It happened to me badly when I discovered our entire new product range replicated exactly 3 stands away.
Exhibitions can provide a unique opportunity to get in front of genuine design buyers, so taking a few steps to ensure you protect any new designs against being copied will pay dividends. Start by being “IP SAVVY” – know your © from your design right and your trade marks from your patents!
CAN YOU PROVE YOUR DESIGN OWNERSHIP? It’s not rocket science! Make sure you have a design audit trail from the seed of an idea to marketplace. Signed and dated drawings do the trick. Better still; register your designs in the UK or EU. Or, like the majority of designers, you rely on unregistered rights, send them to the ACID Design Databank giving you independent evidence of receipt. In any dispute it’s necessary to provide evidence of ownership, originality and date of creation.
DON’T ALLOW PHOTOGRAPHY! – Remember with phone cameras, your designs can be sent across the world in seconds and mass-produced before you even pack up your stand! So take control of who photographs your work, ask them why and note down their contact details. Only allow authorised photography and if it’s a problem, insist that organisers support you. After all, you pay thousands to rent your stand space and exhibition organisers build their reputations on your innovation.
IF YOU DON’T WANT TO BE COPIED, SAY SO! There’s no more powerful message on your website/marketing material or a statement on your stand. Something along the lines of: “All the intellectual property in our designs belongs to (your name). Any infringements will be pursued seriously”.If you discover a copy of your designs at an exhibition and you don’t have a DATED design audit trail or evidence to support your work, it is almost impossible to take legal action or complain effectively to the show organisers.
SHOUT ABOUT COPIES – “Can you spot the difference?” Using social media effectively can be a useful platform for exposing your original and an alleged copy and getting immediate results. With the advent of social media it can take moments to erode the reputation of brands that produce lookalikes. But be careful! If you make a groundless threat and accuse someone of copying and in the fullness of time it proves otherwise in the UK you can be sued yourself. Always seek some professional advice. Gaining public support by shouting about unfairness and a blatant disregard for design originality is what many are starting to do. Such as the Trunki campaign #ProtectYourDesign.
TAKING SOMEONE TO COURT ISN’T AS EXPENSIVE AS IT USED TO BE! For relatively small IP disputes (£10,000 or less) if you have to take legal action it doesn’t necessarily cost a fortune and there is access to inexpensive justice through a new small claims track.