Furniture Designer Fights Copying By Busting Up Some Chairs

from the a-picture-is-worth-a-thousand-copyrights dept

For the most part, furniture designs can't be copyrighted. Just like fashion, which thrives without copyright, the furniture industry serves as an excellent example of why intellectual property is not necessary to promote innovation and commercial success. Copying happens in these industries, and while it's sometimes fought on trademark grounds, the prevalence of cheap knockoff products is an unavoidable reality. But cheap knockoffs are exactly that, and they meet the demands of a different market segment, where low price is more important than quality, so the original designers can compete either by focusing on their strength in the high-end market, by entering the lower market with their own cheaper products, or both.

Reader Baruch Moskovits points us to an example of the former in a video from furniture designer Republic of Fritz Hansen, makers of the popular Series 7 chair, which has an iconic (and frequently copied) design. The company is legally powerless to prevent copying, so they took a more pragmatic approach: smashing the knockoffs to pieces on YouTube—not for the catharsis, but to demonstrate how much better their original Series 7 chair holds up.

If you didn't watch the video, suffice to say the two knockoffs snap like twigs, while the original withstands the same punishment without any signs of damage. Fritz Hansen has rightly recognized what it offers that others don't, and has found a high-impact way of demonstrating this advantage. Naturally some people won't care: they will choose affordability over durability. But those people were probably never going to buy a $500 chair anyway, whether or not cheap alternatives for that specific design are available. Meanwhile, customers who value and can afford top-quality merchandise see a clear demonstration of what they're getting for their money, and one that reflects well not just on the Series 7 but on Fritz Hansen's entire line.

It's extremely rare, in any industry, for one creator to copy another without adding or changing something—a lower price point, better marketing, a better distribution model, a valuable curation service. This is how copying expands markets: originators and copiers must both focus the things that make them stand out, which means finding ways to make a product appeal to new and different people. Strong intellectual property protections exist to shut down such copying, but as industries like furniture and fashion demonstrate, this is unnecessary and potentially quite detrimental. Beating your competitors in court only proves that you were first—obliterating their products on YouTube proves that you're better.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 3:48am

    Some 30 years ago in school I saw the exact same chair designs, they were cheap laminated wood with an arm rest so people could write.

    But I like the people who did this video, for me it is trying to show that they care about the quality of their products and everything is done with care, now that is something that competitors just for the sake of money can't and won't ever do and if you compete with another guy that is equally caring that competition is good too.

    Anybody wonders how IKEA, WalMart and so many others are multi-billion dollar companies when they don't have protections in the market to keep them there?

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

  2. icon
    Peter Voveris (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 3:52am

    I'm not sure what their video proves, it seems to me he jumps on the knockoff charis much harder than their own. But, yes, this is the way to distinguish your product amongst others.

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

  3. icon
    PaulT (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 3:52am

    That's a nice approach. While it's probably correct that the markets for the original line and the knockoffs are probably completely separate markets, this is a very good demonstration of *why* the original chairs are so much more expensive. Given the same design, many people would need such a demonstration to understand why one is so much more expensive. It's not hard to imagine that some people would be swayed into buying the higher priced furniture by the video, even if they'd normally go for the cheaper option.

    It's definitely nice to see another example of a company recognising why people choose the knockoff over the original, and addressing that demand rather than screaming about how they need further legal "protections".

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

  4. identicon
    Pixelation, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 3:55am

    But, but, but IP. How can they survive without suing the other companies?

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

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 4:40am

    "obliterating their products on YouTube proves that you're better." - The video doesn't prove that at all. It's maybe at best that when you pay more money, you MAY get a somewhat longer life. If anything, it's a great promotion for the other product, showing that they are pretty tough.

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

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 4:58am

    If you are a creative person and design new items then you are gullible if you think that the originality lasts longer than 15 minutes. Usually that's all it takes to be rich or famous and copied.
    Copying my work is the greatest form of flattery you could extend to me and remember you can't lose something you never had. Otherwise wish in one hand and doo doo in the other and see which gets full fastest.
    15 minutes of fame in this world of instant communication is like a lifetime in the 60's.

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

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 5:20am

    Listen here music industry!

    CDs should have came in more durable packaging than jewel cases. It's standard practice to jump on them a few times whenever you discover a rootkit or when 3/4 of the album turns out to be filler.

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

  8. icon
    btrussell (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 6:48am

    I'd like to see him jump on the original as hard as he did on the knock-offs.

    Looks like OJ trying on a glove himself while spreading his fingers.

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

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 7:38am

    I want to see some air on his chair like the knock offs.

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

  10. icon
    Some Other AC (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 7:49am


    I am sure it is a matter of view perspective, but he appears to abuse all three products equally. The second Knock Off break with less effort than the first and the first cracked on the initial bounce.

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

  11. identicon
    Lord Binky, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 8:44am


    For real companies, You do not sue to survive, You survive to sue......When the lawyers make out better than anyone else, there's no way you "won". It's like buying your own 1st place trophy,.

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

  12. identicon
    Lord Binky, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 9:25am


    The problem is... consumers are human. And the overwhelming majority of humans like to think lazily. They can conclude on their own, with little effort, that items that last longer save money in the long run. Ex: It is cheaper to buy 1 high quality pair of shoes that lasts 2 years at $200 than to buy low quality shoes that last 6 months for $75.

    Consumers then want to construct the generalization that higher price = higher quality. There is no rule that this must be true, so... It gets fouled up fast. Here are a couple ,(I believe) common ways but definitely not all scenarios.

    Dr. Jekyll Scenario: Jekyll company spent it's time developing their brand through high quality high cost products. Then the company makes it big and eventually has to change, it becomes public (or is inherited/new CEO etc.)... DUN DUN DUN... Shareholders (or THE BOSS) say, Cut the quality, keep the price! We'll make millions, and people won't know the difference! *Snidely Whiplash cackle, and they all wear monocles*

    - This leads to massive consumer resentment and poor brand image faster than companies think. Consumers may want to be lazy but that's not to be confused with stupidity. There's a limit to how stupid (mostly) the mass will be, but infinitely lazy. Jekyll Co. may have sold them 100 high quality products, but they sell them one poor one, Consumers remember that more.

    The Con Scenario: Con Co. deliberately designs their product for appearances at a low cost. Then they get placement near high priced high quality competitors and charge a high price as well. Some people might buy their product because the product has superficial Zazz and is priced 20 dollars lower, or $200 dollars higher. Either way they are trying to trick the person and eventually will get someone who wants to save $20 bucks even after spending $500 or they will get someone who thinks the extra cost will be extra quality. Who needs repeat buyers when make lots of money from some suckers.. I mean customers...

    - Once again this is someone trying to take advantage of consumers wanting that lazy thought process of High Quality = High Cost. Con Co. doesn't have a brand name to rely on for a good reputation, but being close to a good brand name is close enough to get a few people. You only need one millionaire to buy a million dollar cup of lemonade to become a millionaire.

    Consumers don't like to use a generalization if it isn't mostly true. So the quit assuming High Cost== High quality, even though they know high quality is costly, they'll just buy inexpensive even if it will eventually cost more, just to save the trouble of finding high quality products. A few guys trying to manipulate customers ruin it for everyone.

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

  13. identicon
    Manok, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 10:13am

    Sorry Fritz, not very convincing! But hey, who in his right mind would demolish a $500 chair? Those things are made for looking at, not for using them. Well, maybe I would, but my drinking buddies will be sitting on the knock-offs!

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

  14. identicon
    hobo, Apr 10th, 2012 @ 12:26pm

    "For the most part, furniture designs can't be copyrighted."

    Should this be: "For the most part, furniture designs can be copyrighted."?

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

  15. icon
    Leigh Beadon (profile), Apr 10th, 2012 @ 1:04pm


    Nope - they can't usually. Courts have generally ruled that it's too difficult to separate the form from the function, and functional designs can't be copyrighted. Something like an elaborate artistic veneer or something might have certain aspects that qualify - but the overall design of a piece of furniture rarely (if ever) does

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

  16. identicon
    aikiwolfie, Apr 11th, 2012 @ 4:46am

    Irrelevant Test Does Nothing To Impress

    The test is irrelevant. People don't normally bounce on chairs like that. So frankly who cares if the knock-offs can't handle that punishment. The original would seem to be over engineered if the test was fairly conducted. Which means you're definitely paying over the odds.

    And so far as a fair test goes. The guy in the video did seem to jump on the knock-offs harder than the original. Which just doesn't do their brand credibility any favours.

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

  17. icon
    Keroberos (profile), Apr 11th, 2012 @ 9:07am

    suffice to say the two knockoffs snap like twigs, while the original withstands the same punishment without any signs of damage.
    Really? From what I see he used much more force with his knees on the knockoffs and gently bounced on the real one.

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

  18. icon
    TtfnJohn (profile), Apr 14th, 2012 @ 2:06pm

    For what it's worth I agree with those who saw this as him using more force on the knock offs than on his own brand.


    The knockoffs were seriously damages on the first bounce and I could hear one of them cracking as soon as he stood on it.

    The truism you "you get what you pay for" holds up here.

    For what it's worth, I've sat in one of these chairs and they're incredibly uncomfortable particularly for those of us with injured spines. The genuine article, by the way.

    Cool design != comfort. ;-)

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

  19. identicon
    dhenz, Apr 27th, 2013 @ 1:20am

    Competition in home/office furniture is very high. There are a lot of designers who can't protect their copyright, customers would look for the quality of the product.

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

  20. identicon
    Office Desks, Sep 1st, 2013 @ 9:14pm

    Office Desks

    Now you can make your office seat more comfortable in front of your computer. For this, you just have to follow this blog content. Keep it up.

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

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