Ask your average person to consider where in their day-to-day life do they interact most with objects of design and many will answer, “furniture”, at least here in Los Angeles. Blocks and blocks of interior design and high concept modern furniture stores line the many shopping districts found in the Greater Los Angeles area. Together with clothes and cars, furniture is perhaps the area of day-to-day life where people have the opportunity to exercise and express their tastes to the fullest extent for others to enjoy and see. Often, our taste and choice in furniture serves to define aspects of our personality or who we are. Personality descriptions such as Clean, Simple, Gaudy, Free Spirited, Warm, Colorful, are all traits that the design of your sofa just might reveal about you.
So it may come as a surprise to many that one of hardest things for a company to effectively patent and protect is its furniture design. Classic furniture designs, such as those by Charles Eames for Herman Miller, have become the subject and choice product of more and more furniture reproduction companies.
Many consumers, especially in regards to the lower trafficked confines of the home, are more concerned with the design or look of their furniture rather than its materials, quality and durability. As furniture makers overseas have become increasingly adept at knocking-off iconic pieces at a fraction of the original’s price, more consumers are opting for the nearly indistinguishable reproductions.
Brand name manufacturers of iconic furniture are faced with many issues in attempting to patent a particular design. In addition to the typically lengthy patent process, a patent is rarely approved for the actual design of the piece but rather for the recognizable ornamental design aspect, if there is any at all, such as a logo. Think Louis Vuitton handbag, it’s not the actual handbag design that is patented, rather the logo that’s all over it.
A Reproduction of the Famous Eames Lounge Chair by Herman Miller
For a furniture manufacturer to patent an actual design, it would need to prove the iconic status of the piece, costly both from a legal standpoint and for all the marketing and advertising that would be necessary to establish the piece as such. To top it off, design patents expire after 14 years.
As overseas manufacturer have become more adept in mimicking the design of a piece, the quality has also dramatically improved as well. Though warranties offered by reproducers are typically not what the brand name offers that is if there is one even offered at all. Consumers also risk getting stuck with a “pretty lemon”, and all of a sudden a cheaper $1000 knock-off chair became more expensive than the $3000 original.
For reasons such as these, many consumers will stick to the brands they know and opt for the real McCoy. Checkout the recent WSJ article for more on the subject.