Philip G. Cialdella, Regional Vice President of Sales,
Louis Poulsen Lighting
When a lighting manufacturer offers a product range they will typically offer products that present original design or interpretational design.
Original Design: Is based on original or proprietary design that will have a significant amount of R&D along with special features or characteristics that make the product unique. These products are usually solution based and incorporate clever ways of servicing, and maintaining the product, along with superior lighting performance. In the specification grade architectural lighting market, these products are made of high quality, durable materials that will last a long time on lighting projects. While most manufactures offer a one-year warranty, these products are designed to last ten years or more. These products usually cost more due to construction, performance and durability.
Interpretational Design: Is based on taking an existing design and offering a look at not always a lower price. These products are not constructed to last or perform like the original design, and miss the original design intent. They should not be confused with specification grade architectural lighting. In lighting projects today, they exist for the purpose of causing confusion in the market place and allowing poor quality products to be used in place of quality products.
It becomes the responsibility of the design professional to be informed and educate their customer on the virtues and the cost of the quality lighting selected for a project. Writing a proper specification and knowing what products cost is a start. The International Association of Lighting Designers (IALD), in conjunction with the Lighting Industry Research Council (LIRC) have a well crafted document on their website, www.iald.org, click LIRC and then Specification Integrity Document.
Be informed, know what products cost, ask for samples from your local manufacturers representatives, compare samples, and demand that you get the quality in the products that you specify and pay for.
Ted Chappell, President,
ERCO is a global company recognized as a leader in technological innovation. For over 60 years, ERCO has created a unique and recognizable brand identity through original product design and development. We do recognize that often in today's global market, some lighting manufacturers do not share this same business philosophy and exist mostly by copying other existing product lines. In fact, we have actually seen images of ERCO products (including the ERCO logo) in the catalog of another manufacturer.
We see three strategies to combat this 'copycat' syndrome: 1. Do our best to protect our innovative technology with patents. (This is easier domestically than internationally. 2. Be a moving target; by continuing to introduce and develop new designs and technology at a rapid pace, many of these 'copycats' are duplicating outdated designs. 3. Ensure that our Specifiers are aware of the quality differences and technical advantages ERCO has over the knock-offs.
In the end, we rely heavily on consultants (especially lighting designers!) to not approve these inferior copies and support the manufacturers, like ERCO, who are spending the research and development money to advance the industry.
Gedra Mereckis, Vice President, Brand Manager,
The answer to the question posed is that there is no real defense to the growing problem of product copying and knockoffs. Copying is flattery only if it does not cost business. Cheap imports always do (and most knockoffs are imports from Asia.) The only way to stay ahead is for a manufacturer of original product designs and functions to continually innovate and to insist on a level of quality, which some clients will appreciate. Unfortunately, the vast majority will settle for lesser quality in order to achieve lower initial cost. As the originator of modular low-profile undercabinet/undercounter task lighting and other products, Alkco has been forced to manufacture its more mature, lower priced products in the Far East (insisting on strict quality control standards in order to maintain market share of those products.)
Sam Gumins, President and CEO,
As a pioneering manufacturer whose products have long been targeted for 'knockoff,' our feelings are surprisingly mixed; except of course when it's our own products being copied. We recognize that imitation has the capacity to stifle industry innovation, especially when manufacturers fear they will not generate sufficient returns to justify development. We have also seen end-user animosity toward architects and designers, as quality and value are sacrificed in the name of seemingly better pricing with 'substituted' product.
However, imitation also has a positive side. It drives manufacturers to continuously innovate. Since our product development must aggressively outdistance imitators, we have ongoing work for designers. It motivates us to refocus on design as something other than simply outward appearance, ensuring that design is interwoven with unique manufacturing processes and technical excellence. It inspires explosive marketing, as we all strive to maximize the short-term opportunities in a now transitory window. As long as the market continues to recognize innovation, originality will continue to be rewarded. Either way, imitators should remember that today's 'knockers' could become tomorrow's 'knockees.'
Derek Marshall, CEO,
Derek Marshall Lighting
The copying of other's designs is certainly not a new phenomenon. However, given the hugely competitive manufacturing market of the world today, and the lack of respect for copyright laws in some of the emerging manufacturing countries, it is a growing problem for lighting manufacturers.
As a designer and manufacturer of decorative lighting fixtures for both commercial and residential markets, I am acutely aware of this threat. I am also aware that there is very little prospect of this situation improving in the short term.
The first defense against this infringement is to design lighting products that are not amenable to reproduction. This is not easily done, but briefly it would involve design elements that do not lend themselves to simple stamping and extrusion operations, key elements of off-shore manufacturing. This has another benefit in producing designs with more intrinsically interesting form and character. Subtle asymmetry and surface texture are elements not easily reproduced and add interest in their settings. The second defense is to keep designing. Knockoffs take time and effort, and new designs keep you ahead of the pack.
Raymond Kent, President,
All new and existing lighting fixtures are just interpretations of the same basic unit--a lamp, a reflector, and power--so how can you not expect 'cheap' knock-offs to show up in the marketplace. I agree that as lighting professionals we should educate the client as to why we would choose one instrument over another, but it is exactly that, a choice. Each lighting instrument provides many things--an aesthetic look, a quality of light, a certain beam pattern, etc. so if a client is served by what some would deem 'cheapö knock-offs, than that is a choice. Our job is to assist the client in the most appropriate choice for the job and not to limit us because of a marketplace bias.
Glenn Heinmiller, Associate, Lam Partners
Manufacturers concerned with knock-offs should start with their reps. Big agencies typically have several knock-off lines that they use to try and substitute against original product from a competing agency. What goes around comes around. And worse, I have seen reps push knock-off products against their own quality lines!
Randy Borden, Vice President/General Manager,
This issue is about the value of 'original design' and it is obviously not just an issue for the lighting profession. About ten years ago a group of furniture and lighting companies founded the Foundation for Design Integrity (www.ffdi.org) for the purpose of promoting awareness about the importance of protecting original design. While it is an educational organization, FDI's influence also touches on legal and business issues. FDI now has over 150 members. Although mostly from the furniture industry, Shaper Lighting has been a member for six years, and Boyd Lighting is one of the founding members. I write to make others in the lighting industry aware of the organization and to encourage companies to join.
While 'original design' can sometimes be difficult to define, most people know it when they see it. Shaper's product line offers a mix of original design, what I would call 'derivative' design, and designs that exist in the public domain, as do many other manufacturers. Phil Cialdella of Poulsen speaks of 'interpretational design' which is closely related to derivative design, and I agree with Derek Marshall, one of the best defenses against being knocked-off is to 'keep designing.' Design patents offer some protection, but are very difficult to defend. While defending against foreign knock-offs is difficult, by building awareness of the issue domestically we can create more respect for original design.