Followers and Leaders
Part 1 of a 5 part monthly series on business: market entry routes for a new entrant to market in a competitive field.
I have spent the past decade building an international platform to separate and protect professional designers and manufacturers of the interior design profession. One area of concern and a personal passion has always surrounded the theft and abuse of Intellectual Property. The theft of ideas and creativity of persons incapable of creating, from those that do create but do not have the financial ability, personality or tenacity to pursue the perpetrators who dip their hand into the creators pocket and steal their ideas to use for profit. Intellectual Property (IP) is the idea that creates designs and visualises a product, a function, and a method in which to do something in a way that has not been previously formed or created for that function. This takes time to create, shape, form and tweak, it doesn’t mean it has to be accurate and perfect at the start, an idea evolves and adapts to market forces, investment and consumer response, none the less, designs is the key.
Design comes in many formats and forms an integral part of the collective creative industries. It is possible to do the same thing differently for example, designing a dress, a tap or a picture; the item still achieves the same function and purpose but the detail … the design is what makes it different. It is the method, the material, the end result, the process and improvement – the changes and the new way to do the same thing differently that makes a design. IP protection is the difficult method of measuring ownership and therein protecting the design from poor copies and duplication. The creator’s intellectual property has always been a difficult area to protect due to the complex process and journey to reach the end result of the IP product. A product is in fact a business idea or a drawn logo, it could be a complex product, the point is, nobody had done much about the protection of it, and even the variety of methods around the world where IP is registered had provided little recourse for IP owners when the design was copied. The problem has been globalised through the internet providing a larger problem with more places for criminals (perpetrators who steal from the creator) to restrict it and recover compensation.
Firstly lets deal with the immediate problem for Interior Designers; how do you prove who the designer or creator is, and how do you enforce punishment on those who capitalise on the creators commercial idea without consent? It has been difficult enough Country by Country but after the global spread of the internet the problem blew out of control. If you were able to locate a rogue trader [he/she] would have packed up and relocated elsewhere before you could serve him with any legal documents. Rogue Directors open and close companies to create a black hole and others use countries and destinations for registration to ring-fence their activities from law enforcement!
Through a process of research and data sharing at SBID we have recoded and identified one style of theft after another over a seven year period and we have so much evidence of theft it would make your hair curl (as my grandmother would say!) Theft of commercial ideas eats into individual creators profit and it limits industry investment for individuals and private companies. Results just received by the Office for National Statistics confirmed that start-ups are finding it hard for the first time in recent years to obtain funding as investors grow weary of those who copy, steal and ‘pass-off’ duplication of techniques and ideas. This makes it more difficult for a SME commercial enterprise and start-up to succeed. The law provides protections and in fact encourages competition in the marketplace, it encourages innovation, it creates better consumer choice and it provides better value for consumers as competitors seek to differentiate themselves in the marketplace and find their niche.
Financial limitation in government funding has previously restricted growth in protection of IP and this has led to growth in criminal activity in IP. It has been floundered by many; in my own case when a commercial idea I proposed was stolen without my consent and then challenged, one of the Directors of the company at the Boardroom table blatantly told me that as a company Director she could do as she liked and her personal risk was limited to £100.
Well you can’t, she was and still is wrong. I am a business consultant and I sell my ideas to companies for a fee, they are then entitled to present the ideas as their own, that is what they pay me for. I also act in an honorary capacity (no fee) for a variety of charities and worthy causes and I do so simply to present my ideas to amortise the business. Sometimes I do not want my ideas used commercially and if I am acting on my own ideas (my IP) and it is duplicated, without my consent, it is theft. If you are a Company Director and you act in a manner that could damage the prosperity of that company you are in breach of the Company Act. In this scenario the Directors were acting with the full knowledge that they were stealing Intellectual Property that I owned – in this case they have in fact committed a criminal offence.
If you are a Company Director and you act in a manner that could damage the prosperity of that company you are in breach of the Company Act. In this scenario the Directors were acting with the full knowledge that they were stealing Intellectual Property that I owned – in this case they have in fact committed a criminal offence.
Of course she was wrong but the cost and time required in going after directors, especially when they are a board is tough… and if it is a PLC or financially secure company and you are a small struggling design team or individual the reality is that you won’t be able to break through. If individuals run within cartels they also commit a criminal offence. That is even harder to break down and break through. It takes time and in this regard the government act fast and hard. Criminals who blatantly flounce the law for personal benefit at cost to the government through lost taxes and revenue along with stymied enterprise is astronomical. The practice of theft is established and thriving. It cannot continue. I think the entire creative industries simply shrug their shoulders and say that’s how it is.
The situation to administer punishment has been the key barrier to prevent justice. This situation provides free protection to criminals who steal from creators. This flaw or loophole has prevented individual victims of IP theft from taking action.
I am proud to address the abuse in the interior design sector through SBID.
This is our opportunity to finally break cartels in interior design, and nothing will please me more to do so. I might even go after that company who stole my ideas for commercial use too!
President of Society of British and International Design (SBID)