Made in Israel, Copied in Chinaby Yuval Saar | 08.03.16
Earlier this year, designer Avihai Shurin was surprised by a cute video sent to him by a customer who purchased via Amazon a product he designed for Monkey Business. The customer made the video to share with friends and acquaintances her positive experience of the product.
“It was all very cute until I saw at the end of the video that the product was a knock off,” Shurin explains. “It was the Gregg’s (an egg mold that can be used to create a cute face out of eggs), and the end result she got looked a bit off. I could tell that something about the shape and quality of the face that came out was a bit unusual, and indeed I realized that it was a fake and not the real egg shaper.”
This was not Shurin’s first encounter with cheap imitations of his original creations, but this time he decided not to overlook it and wrote a Facebook post about it. In the post, he asked his followers to update him if and when they run across knockoffs of his handiwork. The proofs he used in the post were screenshots that left no room for doubt: in the digital age, copycats have much more room to thrive.
Oded Friedlander, owner of Monkey Business (the family-run, creative product design studio based in Israel), echoes Shurin’s claims, adding: “We write design patents for all of our products, to ensure everything is documented legally. It’s really hard to enforce this in China, but in other countries, knockoffs of original, patent-protected products can be taken off the shelves. Chinese trade websites complicate the issue even further (Alibaba is one example… we jokingly dub them Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves). But even these websites eventually cooperate and stop offering the knockoffs for sale. Problem is, once you get them to take down one knock off, another one pops up.”
When was the first time you found out about a knockoff? How long does it usually take from the moment a product is on the shelves to the moment imitations begin to appear?
Shurin: “In the past, the copycats took a bit longer before they started making their imitations. Nowadays it actually happens quite fast, it’s a matter of a few months. Gregg’s and the product I put out before it, the “Sunnyside”, were both copied fast enough- within a few months, we already heard of copies on sale in a supermarket chain in Sweden.”
And so, what kind of approach should you really take? A lot of people would actually say that copycats are a sure sign of success and actually a compliment, and that there’s nothing much you can do about it in the digital age and so on…
Shurin: “In this particular case, since we had a patent in Europe, we managed to get the copies off the shelves. But beyond that, I don’t really take it as a compliment. The first time it happened, it was a little funny and flattering, but after that it became really annoying.”
“We aren’t going to stop developing new products,” Friedlander adds. “For many years we put out our products and hardly had to deal with this problem. In recent years it’s become a widespread phenomenon, and we had to start writing patents in China and in the US as well. That doesn’t solve the problem entirely, but it helps.”
Where does the fault really lie? Do you blame the Internet?
Friedlander: “No, knock offs have been around for much longer than the Internet, even in the Roman Empire coins were faked. On the one hand, the Internet enables a lot of pirates to sell their illegal merchandise. But on the other hand, it allows us to showcase our products, and in some of the sites you can see how many units were sold. The Internet can be very helpful, and that’s why we turned to our followers on Facebook for help. This allows us to warn people who are interested in purchasing original and qualitative kitchenware, and at the same time, raise awareness regarding the subject of dangerous materials that come into contact with the food we cook at home.”
So bottom line, all you can do is just invest yourself in constantly developing new and innovative products.
Friedlander: “That’s the truth. They can copy our products now, but they can’t imitate projects in development.”
Translation from Hebrew by: Joy Bernard