Image of furnitureWhether you are a contract buyer for a multiple, retail or independent store there is no doubt that the exhibition venue is a unique environment to view new and existing products under one roof. Whilst there has been a significant upturn in online buying and selling, nothing replaces the look, touch and feel of the real thing! So intellectual property (IP) planning for exhibitions is critical. If exhibitors get their exhibition strategy wrong there will be little return on investment. If, however, you get it right you can establish relationships, consolidate the intellectual capital in your brand and communicate your anti copying policy – essential for those whose reputation and future depends on original design. ACID Accredited Exhibitions have a positive policy of encouraging and promoting original design and the respect for intellectual property.

Andy Vaughan, Interiors Event Director says, “Having been an ACID accredited event for many years now, Interiors Birmingham has a zero tolerance policy to design infringement within the industry and therefore fully supports ACID’s aims and mediation protocol to help to combat these issues.”  Louise Young, Managing Director of Spring Fair says “We understand the importance of IP to our customers and, as part of Emap’s terms and conditions, all exhibitors agree not to infringe the rights of any third party.  On the rare occasion where an infringement has been brought to our attention, the product is removed from the stand.  In cases where an exhibitor believes there has been an infringement we will always suggest that in the first instance they seek specialist advice.”

In 2010 ACID announced that IP Steering Groups had been created to work with ACID Accredited Exhibitions in raising awareness of copying issues on the exhibition floor.  These groups consist of ACID Members, small and large, who exhibit regularly.  ACID recently asked for their views on the Government’s response to ACID’s No. 10 petitions and also to the announcement, by David Cameron, of an Intellectual Property Review for 2011.

The Government response to ACID’s petition to bring design right infringement in line with other IP rights stated, “That unlike copyright and trademarks, design right infringement can often be inadvertent!” ACID disagrees strongly, as do many including ACID member Rodney McMahon, Managing Director of Morgan Contract Furniture. Commenting on the Government’s response Rodney said, “As a British manufacturer of design led furniture within the contract sector employing 60 people, the intellectual property we create is the lifeblood on which the future of our organisation will rely. On a personal level, having been the recipient of intellectual property infringement on a significant scale, I find the Government’s statement that design infringement may be inadvertent is way off the mark and misleading.  As Chairman of the British Contract Furnishing Association the majority of our 200 members would also confirm that it is rare to experience inadvertent copying. For most, IP infringement is blatant and deliberate. I welcome the announcement of David Cameron’s recent review of IP and hope that there will be a real commitment to provide a cost and time effective means of IP dispute resolution to meet the needs of business today. The British contract furnishings industry contributes £2.2 billion to the UK’s GDP and employs approximately 25000 people.”

Echoing Rodney McMahon’s reaction, Tim Hudson, MD of Frank Hudson Ltd. who will be showcasing their new Gothic bed design at Interiors,  said, “I am, quite frankly amazed at the Government’s claim that, design right infringement can often be inadvertent. In our experience it is generally deliberate. One of the reasons we are passionate about protecting what sits under the Frank Hudson brand is that, over the years, we have traded very successfully on our knowledge, craftsmanship and intellectual property and we will do everything to ensure our brand is not eroded by cheap look alikes of our design led ranges”.

Patrick Heeley, Managing Director of ACID member Villeroy & Boch, exhibitors at Spring Fair,  commented “I was astonished by the Government’s clear lack of concern in this issue, and the reference to design infringement often being ’inadvertent’. It is a disgraceful dismissal of the problem.” Villeroy & Boch employ 250 people in their UK division.

Penny Laughton, Marketing Director of LSA, also showing at Spring Fair,  employees 55 people in the UK, said, “Like many other ACID members we welcome David Cameron’s announcement of an intellectual property review and hope that real progress will be made to improve access to cost and time effective solutions to address IP infringement. Contrary to the recent Government response to ACID’s petition, we find that copying within the industry is more often blatant and deliberate rather than inadvertent and hope that this issue will also be covered in the IP review.”

Given the current disparity between intellectual property rights, what do ACID Members put in place to protect their designs when they are exposed at the exhibition venue? One ACID member who puts intellectual property high on the list of priorities is Ray Davies of Bentley Designs, who are showing their DAKOTA bedroom collection at Interiors. Along with 80%+ of all ACID members, Bentley Designs send all their designs into the ACID Design Data Bank before exhibiting to ensure that an intellectual property audit trail lies behind each and every piece of designed furniture. In this way, it can demonstrate all the different stages between idea and eventual market place, essential to Bentley’s IP armoury whilst communicating a strong anti copying message to the sector.

If a designer is unlucky enough to be copied, but has a registered Community design (RCD), it is much more cost and time effective for an IP lawyer to write a powerful letter before action which will be more difficult to legally challenge. Investors, too, are more likely to be persuaded if they can see tangible evidence of tradable IP assets. Another key benefit of an RCD is that, for a small sum, publication (public disclosure) can be delayed (in the UK by 12 months and in the EU by 30 months) so that competitors cannot see a new design/design range before its official launch. This gives originators a clear and fair lead in the marketplace plus the added protection assurance of an RCD.

ACID member Alstons Upholstery is a regular Interiors exhibitor and their Design Director Matthew Cave said,” I would like to stress the importance of making an application for a “Registered Community Design” which may initially be costly, particularly if there are several products involved, but it’s the only way of ensuring your products are fully protected.”

The UK used to be a nation of shopkeepers and manufacturers (although we are still the 7th largest manufacturer in the world!). If a shopkeeper’s stock is stolen, they can’t trade. Now the UK is a knowledge economy. If an IP originators tradable knowledge is stolen, their capacity to continue to market and sell designs may be seriously eroded. EU and National policy makers should seriously consider reducing registration fees and making cost and time effective legal redress a priority in a significant policy shift change. Introducing accessible IP enforcement with meaningful exemplary damages wouldn’t be a bad start.

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