Copycats Play a Poor Game
Most businesses only become aware their products have been copied after an increase in ‘customer’ complaints – which is no surprise since plagiarised products are not built to the same quality levels
While you wouldn’t expect a £10 ‘Rolex’ watch to keep its lustre or its timekeeping abilities for more than a few months, it must be said that fake luxury goods do less damage than plagiarism in other industries – and that includes play equpment. The industry is characterised by high design costs and small production runs, as well as relatively high sales and marketing costs, which is why play equipment is so costly. Also, many original ideas prove to be unsuccessful commercially - which, in turn, requires a greater return from the products that are successful.
Companies that strive for, and make hefty investments in original design often work with independent creators who are paid royalties. Such companies breathe new life into the industry, creating exciting and innovative products that give vibrancy and choice to the consumer.
Plagiarists, on the other hand, have none of these characteristics and seek to compete on price alone. While their aim is to produce a product that looks like a successful original, the copycat inferior often suffers from:
- Smaller dimensions - products may look similar in photographs but side by side of the structures, thickness of the timbers etc can be much smaller.
- Less safety elements - key features can be omitted.
- Use of inferior fixings and materials - which can affect product performance and longevity, and
- Inferior functionality, perhaps the movement or play value is diminished.
For example, Richter’s climbing structure (pictured) was many years in development. It was based on an original idea by a sculptor for a Dragons Skeleton. Designing something from new like this means applying yourself to every small detail of the structure and it is within these minutiae that much of the design quality resides. After the intense effort of the initial prototype is complete, the design process continues.
Further adaptations were made to improve safety and functionality based on feedback from observing children using the structures in the factory playground.
Timberplay also invested in the product, jumping through many hoops to get the first systems installed in Great Britain and collaborating with playground inspectors to explain the safety features.
Although the development time for the structure was particularly long, it is quite normal for Richter to test new product lines for one-two years before releasing them. The climbing structures have been a great success and, as a result, now come the copyists!
Of course there can be legal redress for such plagiarism, and while there has been lobbying for more stringent laws against intellectual property infringements, for now, most plagiarism goes unpunished. The legal process is uncertain and expensive.
It would be wonderful if buyers who are increasingly taking an ethical stance with their purchasing would also consider originality of design – but if they do not, perhaps they should consider what they are getting for their money and whether the cheap lookalike will prove to be more expensive in the long run.
Contributed by Paul Collings, managing director, Timberplay