30
Nov/09

"Case Study" of Design Within Reach's Move To "Knock-Offs" Plus Questions For Discussion


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Design Within Reach, a retailer of designer furniture, used to promote itself as ‘The source for licensed classics,’ selling modern classics such as the Barcelona Chair and Eames Chair. This earned it a certain following but also a non-following who referred to it as ‘Design Out Of Reach.” This FastCompany article details its current finanical troubles and its re-positioning away from licensed products to sell what some may refer to as knock-offs. The article contains interesting quotes by designers whose products have been ‘knocked-off’ by DNR, as well as by licensors (such as the Eames estate) that still do business with DNR but are having second thoughts. Bonus quote from Prof. McCarthy re trade dress protection of furniture, or lack thereof.
Things to think about:
1. Is it ironic that licensed versions of Modernism, a movement that, to the extent that it was inspired in part by the Bauhaus movement and thus had at least a stated objective of bringing ‘design’ to the ‘masses,’ are, for most part, unaffordable to the masses? Or is it some word other than ‘ironic’?
2. Is trade dress protection for the shape of Modern furniture more or less appropriate, given the simplicity of Modern design? Is there a public policy argument to be made against trade dress protection for the shape of furniture?
3. Does DWR’s prior relationship with the designers that it ‘knocks off’ influence your opinion of DWR?
4. Is there a Platonic chair that is intelligently designed and is affordable?
March 2009 blog post on trademark suit against DWR here.
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