US Messenger Bag Company Discovers Copycats In Asia... Says We'll Keep Innovating And They'll Have To Keep Up

from the nice-response dept

We've pointed out in the past that too many companies totally overreact to copycat products hitting the market. If you're really an innovator, you keep innovating, and copycat companies won't be able to keep up. Or, worst case, if they leapfrog you, you build on their designs as well. However, many companies, still freak out and call the lawyers (or politicians!) and say "this is wrong!" So it's nice to see a company react smartly. Reader Wes sends over this blog post from the company Tom Bihn, which makes messenger bags, luggage and such things -- who recently discovered an Asian company blatantly copying one of their designs. So how did they respond? By noting that imitation is the highest form of flattery, and that they're just going to focus on innovating, so any copycats will just have to keep up:
Looks like someone liked our authentic Ristretto for iPad so much that they decided to copy it. This email was forwarded to us by a customer in Norway. Can any of you translate it for us? Our best guess is that this product is made in somewhere in Asia (not Norway) though we don't know for certain. Are we mad? Not really. We're too busy designing the next generation of laptop bags -- the copycats will just have to keep up with us.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Porkster, Dec 8th, 2010 @ 1:34am

    Well Done!!

    Well done messenger bag people.
    10 points and much kudos. I now know:
    1. That your bag exist because I've seen it on Tech Dirt.
    2. There are people out there copying it so it must be a quality bag. (no one's ever sold a copy Zen Xui watch but they do sell copy Rolexes)
    3. That I should be careful when purchasing this bag because there are copies out there! (I'm now forced to remember the brand name not just the style/look).
    4. Your product will be discussed more. (Is that a real rolex?)
    5. People will be drawn to sites about your bags. ('How to spot a fake Rolex' 1,620,000 results on Google).

    Great attitude and good luck!

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 8th, 2010 @ 1:47am

    Nice to hear about a company with confidence in their products for a change, instead of the usual obsolete companies that depend entirely on arbitrary legislation to stay in business.

     

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  3.  
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    Tommy, Dec 8th, 2010 @ 2:26am

    Guess how much more excited I am....

    ...I asked for a Brain Bag for Christmas. Now I'm even more pumped to get one. I also convinced someone to buy one of these on the strength of reviews and anecdotal evidence alone. These Tom Bihn guys are pretty awesome...

     

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  4.  
    identicon
    moi, Dec 8th, 2010 @ 2:32am

    too bad there's no option to comment on their blog. I wanted to tell them what a nice attitude this is.

     

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  5.  
    identicon
    James, Dec 8th, 2010 @ 4:00am

    All good and well

    That's fine when its a simple bag that is easily designed and remade. The issue comes when something like scientific software that is based upon vast amounts of expensive research and development to create a system that is proven is then ripped off and resold by others...

     

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  6.  
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    ctromley (profile), Dec 8th, 2010 @ 4:09am

    Innovation is hard. Immitation is easy.

    I always get a kick out of the blathering bloggers who say "just keep innovating." Try picking up a wrench, stepping into a lab or creating a new market niche on your own. Speaking as a product development engineer near the end of a long career (and, ironically, unemployed) I can tell you with certainty that innovation is very hard. Only the best can do it, and only when conditions are right. Immitation, on the other hand, reaps all the benefits of that hard work, money, countless hours, anxiety and many more devastating failures than you know, at no cost. At what point do a large proportion of the innovators finally say "Screw it"? We'll never know, because they would produce innovations we'll never see. I know first hand the loss is huge and growing. If you disagree, put the damn computer away and go create something truly new. Then come back and we'll discuss. Not for long though, otherwise someone without your skills will rip you off and you'll have to go through the whole process again just to stay afloat. Or maybe you'll just say "Screw it, it's easier to tell others to innovate."

     

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  7.  
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    abc gum, Dec 8th, 2010 @ 4:36am

    Re: All good and well

    Examples lend credence to inuendo.

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    abc gum, Dec 8th, 2010 @ 4:48am

    Re: Innovation is hard. Immitation is easy.

    Very convincing argument. Your use of the insult intro is well done and not overbearing. In addition, the staement that markets are created rather than recognised and catered to is simply ingenious. Bravo.

    It is sad you no longer have the desire, maybe you should just retire.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 8th, 2010 @ 6:39am

    I thought it was called competition.

     

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  10.  
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    ctromley (profile), Dec 8th, 2010 @ 7:03am

    Re:

    You can think of immitation as competition, or you can think of it as legal theft. Doesn't matter. The point is, if you let the immitators get free use of the innovators' creativity, skills, blood sweat & tears, you get fewer innovators. Why should I put in the hard work if others will simply lift it and profit from it?

     

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  11.  
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    ctromley (profile), Dec 8th, 2010 @ 7:14am

    Re: Re:

    addendum: I personally have a product concept that could be developed in just a few months, that could deliver on much of the promise the Segway failed to meet, at a much lower price. The reason I never pursued it is that months after hitting the market there would be several Chinese copies. Guaranteed. Why invest money, time and creativity if you can't reap the benefits?

     

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  12.  
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    Atkray (profile), Dec 8th, 2010 @ 7:37am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Why invest money, time and creativity if you can't reap the benefits?


    Because you can.


    If you have a gift you use it and don't care a fig about others, you are satisfied with your own accomplishments.

    Sounds to me like you are a just another coin operated person.

     

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  13.  
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    Gyffes, Dec 8th, 2010 @ 7:53am

    Excellent company

    I've bought several of their bags and while they're pricey, they're wonderful, truly a case of getting what you pay for. The quality is excellent and the bags really hold up well. I've recommended them often and this just confirms my decision to keep buying from them.

     

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  14.  
    identicon
    SLK8ne, Dec 8th, 2010 @ 8:04am

    Class

    Have to give kudos to this company. That was a very classy reply. I don't need a laptop bag at the moment. But, when I do, this company will certainly be near the top of the list of options.

     

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  15.  
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    johnny canada, Dec 8th, 2010 @ 8:09am

    Never heard of that company before 'Tom Bihn' but I will now look them up and check out their products, and possible by one or two.

    I have heard of Monster Cable and will never buy or recommend any of their products.

    See how the way a company handles a problem and the way the internet works.

     

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  16.  
    identicon
    Transbot9, Dec 8th, 2010 @ 8:16am

    Re: Innovation is hard. Immitation is easy.

    Working on it...

    Actually, as a digital artist specializing in Graphic Design, not only can my designs be copied, they also can be copied infinitly, cheaply, and rapidly.

    My selling points? Creativity and Execution. And while other may "steal" my ideas, they will never be able to steal how I execute the idea.

    And, y'know, I can always come up with more. I have too many ideas as it is.

     

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  17.  
    identicon
    SLK8ne, Dec 8th, 2010 @ 8:19am

    Re: "creating a market niche"????

    Really? Please elaborate on how one "creates" a market niche.

    No offense sir, but, you need to study some history. The whole concept that the creator of an idea is the only one who should/will profit from it is relatively new in the larger stream of history.

    The fact is that there is a long tradition of intellectual property "piracy" in this country. In the colonial age it was a common practice to reprint books written in Europe because of the taxes on books imported into the colonies. They would get one such book and fire up the printing presses. One such IP "pirate" was Benjamin Franklin. (Paul Revere was a smuggler, but, therein lies another tale)And indeed it is ancient. Archimedes worried about rival mathematicians "stealing" his innovations so much he laid traps for them in his published works. (Don't think he caught any flies, but, I don't know for sure)

    Point being that, yes, innovation is difficult, and yes there is piracy of said innovation, but, that hasn't stopped innovation. There has always been a conflict between "pirates" and "innovators." And there probably always will be. It's simply a fact of human existance.

     

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  18.  
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    ctromley (profile), Dec 8th, 2010 @ 8:20am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "Sounds to me like you are a just another coin operated person."

    Perhaps. Or maybe you are yet another person who does not understand the struggle and risk of implementing innovation. Do it. Then you're qualified to talk about it.

     

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  19.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 8th, 2010 @ 8:41am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Software has no patents, so unlike you, I'm walking a career where EVERYTHING is legally copied and imitated.

    Seems to me like you're the one living in a cushy, patent protected life.

     

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  20.  
    icon
    ctromley (profile), Dec 8th, 2010 @ 8:44am

    Re: Re: "creating a market niche"????

    "Really? Please elaborate on how one "creates" a market niche."

    I have worked for two companies who didn't just create market niches but entire markets - i.e. it was not possible to get anything like what they made until they made it. That's innovation. In the world of high tech products innovation doesn't happen unless it's a profitable venture. The whole "ideas should be free" concept may carry some weight in the digital world, but be very careful about applying that approach to expensive hardware.

    I am all for working for the benefit of all mankind, but I have to make a living too. I do understand there will always be tension between pirates and innovators. Just understand that there is a balance to be struck, and that balance changes with the amount of resources needed and risk involved for the innovation in question.

    So far no one has countered my primary point: If you remove the incentive for people to innovate, you get less innovation. Of course innovation doesn't stop entirely. But if immitators are completely unrestrained we'll never know what could have been. Immitation has a cost. We just don't know what it is.

     

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  21.  
    identicon
    Transbot9, Dec 8th, 2010 @ 8:46am

    Re: All good and well

    So what about large scale open source software operations such as Linux, Open Office, or Joomla?

     

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  22.  
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    Modplan (profile), Dec 8th, 2010 @ 8:56am

    Re: Re: Re: "creating a market niche"????

    No one has even pondered the idea of removing the incentive to innovate. What we're saying is you don't need to be granted a monopoly on the market to be successful nor to have incentive in the first place. Ideas are already free, what matters is execution.

     

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  23.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 8th, 2010 @ 9:15am

    Re: All good and well

    The highest value in scientific software is SUPPORT AND MAINTENANCE. No software is 'complete' and able to be applied in any given situation; they all have minor bugs, glitches, and issues. Maintenance fees drive the profit of software houses... not development costs.

     

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  24.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 8th, 2010 @ 9:22am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Because a Chinese copy MIGHT exist soon after you create a product (which could still be sold for profit irregardless) you decide not to create the product? Sounds much more likely that you doubt the product would be profitable at all or that you can manufacture and market it.

    Loss of some sales won't make your venture profitless... it just might make it profit less than before. It is basically silly to suggest otherwise.

     

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  25.  
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    ctromley (profile), Dec 8th, 2010 @ 9:22am

    Re: Re: All good and well

    "So what about large scale open source software operations such as Linux, Open Office, or Joomla?"

    Good point, which emphasizes my comment about digital innovation, or other areas where innvation requires few resources. Open source projects are a fine example of people doing good for its own sake. But it works for open source only because you can get a distributed swarm of people to collaborate farily easily. Again, it all comes down to the effort and risk needed for a result.

    I'm an ME. Once I donated time to an EE heading a new product development team. In his prior experience any incremental failures on the path to success could be fixed with a new board layout, new code, etc. He quickly learned that mistakes in the high tech hardware world can mean months of delay and many $1000s of scrap. He summed up this new perspective in his comment, "Y'know, you MEs have the worst editor ever...." Some innovations are easier than others.

    What do you want your innovation to achieve, what will it take to make it happen, and will you be able to give a proper return to your investors before some Asian sweatshop with no creative talent rips it off? In some fields of endeavor, innovation will only happen if those questions have a favorable answer.

    Perhaps the goal is to change how those 'antiquated' fields of endeavor operate? If so, how?

     

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  26.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 8th, 2010 @ 9:32am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Or maybe you are yet another person who does not understand the struggle and risk of implementing innovation. Do it. Then you're qualified to talk about it.

    It doesn't work that way and you know it, or do you?

     

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  27.  
    icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), Dec 8th, 2010 @ 9:59am

    Re: Innovation is hard. Immitation is easy.

    I always get a kick out of the blathering bloggers who say "just keep innovating.

    And I always get a kick out of commenters who kick off with an insult.

    Speaking as a product development engineer near the end of a long career (and, ironically, unemployed) I can tell you with certainty that innovation is very hard.

    Did anyone say otherwise?

    Immitation, on the other hand, reaps all the benefits of that hard work, money, countless hours, anxiety and many more devastating failures than you know, at no cost.

    That's nice in theory. Thankfully, we've covered the many, many studies that show this is not true in reality for a variety of reasons. First, if the product really is complicated, it's not so easy to just copy. Second, even if it is easy to copy, the first mover advantage can be quite strong in keeping a market. Third, often "copying" only copies the superficial aspects of a product, rather than what really makes it cool or makes it work well. Fourth, the first to market often has a better understanding of what the market *really* wants and is in a much better position to stay ahead.

    Yes, sometimes a copier will win -- but, that's competition. And, in the end, it's better for consumers.

    As for the idea that lots of innovators don't even bother because they're worried about competitors, again, we pointed to some MIT research last year that found that to be a very rare occurrence. Most innovation occurs because someone is scratching their own itch for a need.

    So, I understand the *theory* of what you're claiming, but thankfully, we have data that shows it's simply not true for the most part.

     

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  28.  
    identicon
    Vincent Clement, Dec 8th, 2010 @ 10:57am

    Re: Re:

    "if you let the immitators get free use of the innovators' creativity, skills, blood sweat & tears, you get fewer innovators"

    The evidence suggests the opposite. PC computing took off after IBM chose not to use proprietary operating systems and microprocessors and IBM PC-compatible clones entered the market. There were plenty of innovators in that field.

     

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  29.  
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    ctromley (profile), Dec 8th, 2010 @ 11:16am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "It doesn't work that way and you know it, or do you?"

    Actually, in my experience it does work that way. Time and again. Frankly I'm a little disturbed at how I continue to go around this issue with all of you and neither side can see the other's point of view. Maybe it's because (speaking in broad strokes here) bloggers and digital guys routinely recycle others' ideas using little more than a keyboard. Whereas I have had to ensure no laws of nature are violated, create prototypes, test, make sure the product is safe, get capital outlays approved, etc. etc.

    Maybe it has to do with our definition of innovation. Getting back to the original subject, I wonder if "innovation" in the case of US Messenger Bag is nothing more than a different look to the product, or maybe a new flap or pocket - basically a fashion change with a little function thrown in. In which case it requires no more than a stylist/marketing effort and a few material and machine programming changes to implement. If true, coming out with a new style frequently is no big deal.

    When I speak of innovation I mean making possible that which was not possible before. Are we really saying there is no value in bringing something truly new to market? Do we really believe that companies with the resources to innovate don't fully evaluate the profitability of a venture before starting? That if they know profits will be lower without protection from immitators, all projects will still make it to consumers? Seriously?

    This discussion has too much of a tone of mindless idealogical extremism. The needle on my BS detector is in the yellow zone. Everyone but me is talking in terms of broad principles. Who here actually makes a living by innovating? You know, nuts, bolts, dollars, cents, markets, ROI? Not just turning the crank on old ideas?

    Small-scale charitable behavior is a beautiful thing. But where the numbers are big, the numbers will be favorable, or innovation won't happen. Ignorance is bliss. You can't miss innovations you never see.

     

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  30.  
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    kosmonautbruce (profile), Dec 8th, 2010 @ 11:32am

    Highly, highly recommended products

    Just another shoutout for Tom Bihn products. I have one of backpacks and it's so much better than any other backpack I've had that it's silly. The care and quality they put into their products are simply not copyable, at least not at much lower prices I'd surmise.

    And of course the example should not be lost on the fashion/clothing world generally. Have great brand values and it won't matter if you get copied.

     

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  31.  
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    Craig (profile), Dec 8th, 2010 @ 11:52am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "I have had to ensure no laws of nature are violated, create prototypes, test, make sure the product is safe, get capital outlays approved, etc. etc."

    As an ME in training this seems absolutely backward. To "ensure no laws of nature are broken" makes you sound like a wizard rather than someone who uses his understanding OF the laws of nature to create something. You don't 'violate' laws of nature, you use conclusions based on their unavoidable existence to control how you approach a problem. The rest of the quote sounds exactly like normal work of an engineer, what's so special about that?

    "I wonder if "innovation" in the case of US Messenger Bag is nothing more than a different look to the product, or maybe a new flap or pocket - basically a fashion change with a little function thrown in. In which case it requires no more than a stylist/marketing effort and a few material and machine programming changes to implement. If true, coming out with a new style frequently is no big deal."

    That's only incremental innovation, it's nice sure, but it doesn't move the company forward. Initial designs of a bag will have to consider specific constraints: strength of the materials, how they are joined, size of the compartments, positioning of accessory compartments, length of strap, just to name a few obvious ones. If a design is good it will both have considered the important design variables as well as implemented them in a way which is powerful.

    Then of course comes the "foreign company" who has "cheap labor" who can copy your designs. Ignoring the benefits some people talked about in other comments about brand devotion, it's possible that you would go out of business if you merely kept selling this design. Doing this however ignores your strenghts.

    As the bag company you already went through the work of designing this great bag. Because of it's success you know what matters when making that bag, and you know how to address those problems in an efficient matter. The company copying you knows none of this. What you should do, and what this company does appear to be doing, is to use these criterion to expand their market. Ok, they made a good laptop bag, but what about other bags? Because of their success in the laptop bag market, they probably have the tools to be successful in the backpack market. That is innovation, because it takes their developmental advantage to consistently create a product that will be ahead of the game.

    Take the example of Apple. I am not a fan of their products, but i recognize that the reason they are successful is that they have been able to consistently build (somewhat elitist) quality (this is the important part) products that are ahead of the competition, because of their developmental understanding of their last product.

    I suppose rather than saying innovation simply starts with an itch, it would be more correct to say that innovation is led by itches, as a company sees the progressively wider expanse of how they can take advantage of their strengths in the market.

     

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  32.  
    identicon
    sanett, Dec 8th, 2010 @ 3:28pm

    Re++

    The market hates a margin.

     

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  33.  
    identicon
    abc gum, Dec 8th, 2010 @ 6:37pm

    Re: Re: Re: "creating a market niche"????

    An example is worth a thousand words.

    I'm sure the tobacco companies worked very hard developing the market for nicorete.

    See - that was not difficult, now was it?

     

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  34.  
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    Proffer (profile), Dec 9th, 2010 @ 4:28am

    maybe, or..

    I think this kind of response is awesome.

    However, I can't help but wonder, is their reaction like this ONLY because it's not happening in the US? Trying to chase after copycats in other countries (especially Asia) is kind of a lost cause, and they probably realized that.

    If it was a company in the US doing the copying and they had this kind of response as opposed to sic'ing the lawyers.. I'd be much more impressed.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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