5 Tips For Protecting Your Brand, from Niche Modern


Be Original Americas member Niche Modern is a pro when it comes to defending their original designs from would-be copycats and knockoff retailers. In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, CEO Jeremy Pyles described how “merchants on AliExpress and other sites have used his copyrighted photographs to sell knockoffs of his lights” and “he now has an employee dedicated to filing complaints to such websites.”

Experiencing similar problems? There’s good news: with dedicated efforts, Niche has had great success in removing their products from hundreds of fraudulent websites.  The luxury glass lighting company offered to do a guest blog for Be Original and share their 5 most important tips for protecting your authentic brand name and products from imitators, here’s what they had to say:

 1. Register Your Copyright

Copyright covers published and unpublished works in the U.S. as well as in other countries, and your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created. While registering your copyright is optional, it will only help if you have a lawsuit or need to fight infringements. It’s the first step in protecting your original work.

2. Set Up Google Alerts

The world wide web consists of at least 4.65 billion pages and is growing every day, so how is it possible to know when someone is using your brand name to sell their impostors? Google Alerts is an easy way to get email notifications when new results are found on web pages that match your search terms –  for instance, your brand or best-selling product name along with words like “replica” or “knockoff”. Setting up alerts is easy and will help you catch copycats at the earliest opportunity – get started here.


Niche Modern CEO Jeremy Pyles sketches a pendant light.


3. Enforce the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (1998) allows owners of copyrighted materials residing on the internet to request that their material be removed from any infringing website. Notices that are created using DMCA guidelines are sent to the Internet Service Provider of the website at fault. After an ISP has received the notice, they must inform their client of the infringement and request its removal or remove it themselves. We recommend streamlining the process for sending take-downs by creating an editable sample notice, so it’s easy and time-efficient to take action. There are many sites that allow you to look up a domain name or IP address such as www.whoisnet.com. Try this sample DMCA takedown to get you started.

Bonus tip: You can also block IP addresses from computers that are located in China and Hong Kong from accessing your website. According to a report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, 70% of the world’s seized counterfeit goods come from China, so why not keep them from seeing your products to begin with?



Every piece of Niche Modern glass is hand-blown in their upstate New York factory

4. Trademark Your Brand

A trademark is in essence a brand name used to distinguish the source of goods of one party from those of another. A Federal trademark, when registered, is governed by national laws. Whereas a copyright protect your products and ideas, a trademark protects your brand. Register trademarks not only in the US but in other countries as well, depending on where your products are being counterfeited. Putting the trademark sign or ® after your brand name, regardless of whether you officially file, will give you rights to your brand name if someone else tries to use it. US trademark rights are based on actual use, so use it and you’ll be protected.

 5. Educate your Clients

Niche Modern has received inquiries about our lights being sold online for drastically less than list price and many customers ask why. We explain that there are several counterfeit sites that sell cheap, inferior products from overseas, and that purchasing from us means they are supporting authentic, original design made in New York. Ninety-nine percent of the time, they understand the price tag and feel great about supporting our brand and purchase with us. We invite our customers behind-the-scenes with video features showing our process to learn about craftsmanship, and every order is sent with a Certificate of Authenticity, reassuring our client that they have an original piece, made with love.


A certificate of authenticity validates every purchase of legitimate Niche Modern designs.


Learn more about Be Original Americas member Niche Modern by visiting their website. Got another tip to add?  Comment below or tweet at us @BeOriginalUSA.

Authenticity as Intent at Pratt Institute


How do we define what is legitimate – what is real – in design?

That’s the question Be Original Americas aimed to answer at Pratt Institute last month in a live discussion between industrial designer Leon Ransmeier and Ben Watson, Executive Creative Director of charter member Herman Miller. After an introduction by Karin Tehve, Chair of Interior Design at Pratt Institute, moderator Felix Burrichter, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of PIN-UP Magazine guided Ransmeier and Watson in their investigation of authenticity.

Ransmeier and Watson know each other well, having met when the designer was approached to create what would become the AGL Table Group for Herman Miller in 2011. Using this collaboration as a model, they began to point to the specific elements that contribute to the integrity of a design.

photo_gallery_AGL_2 - need approval

AGL Table by Leon Ransmeier | Photo by Francois Dischinger used courtesy of Herman Miller

Authenticity begins with intent. Herman Miller undertakes every project with an interest in people, and solving a problem for the end user. In the case of AGL, this was updating the task table for a contemporary relationship with technology.  In every Herman Miller process, the objective for a design is honored, even under constraints, and guided by the core values of transparency, equality, voice, and design philosophy. Or, in the words of Ransmeier, “Authenticity is combined passion and work.” This is one of the core differences between knockoff designs and originals. Copycats want to imitate profits, but not the good intentions or disciplined production that lead to unique and effective design.

Burrichter noted that this extends beyond aesthetics or ergonomics to environmental factors, and Ransmeier agreed that ecological consideration is part of the designer’s responsibility to make things that support and enhance people’s lives. As sustainability and the product life-cycle climb to top of mind in the global marketplace, knockoffs produced cheaply through environmentally devastating methods are more dangerous than ever, serving to exacerbate pollution and “throw-away” culture. Legitimate design – real design – responds to the circumstances of the world that created a need for it in the first place.

Solving a problem is never easy – and Watson noted that most consumers don’t know the true cost of designing an effective product.  For example, a high performance task chair, perhaps created with the intent of supporting modern working postures to improve workplace wellbeing, can cost as much as $25 million to develop and take 3-4 years to come to market. Ransmeier’s AGL Table group took 2.5 years to be ready for launch at NeoCon 2013. Premium manufacturers aren’t interested in quick fixes – they seek to create solutions that last. This requires human resources (designers, researchers, support), tools of labor, capital expenses, 3D molds, prototypes, and more in order to truly test and refine the products that improve quality of life for their users. Without this significant investment – and without clear, honorable intentions – there would be no great design to be copied.


Felix Burrichter, Leon Ransmeier and Ben Watson at the packed Juliana Curran Terian Design Center

There may, of course, be other ways to define what “real” design is – and to be sure, this discussion is one Be Original Americas continues to explore. However, it seems likely that a process that doesn’t begin with authentic intentions – to create something useful, beautiful, unique – cannot become an authentic process halfway through the making.

Be Original Americas invests in the future of design with a series of talks, round tables, and panel discussions at universities, industry programs, and more. You can learn about upcoming events here, or become a supporter to stay in-the-know.

The Originals: Marcel Wanders

International  designer, art director, and member of Be Original Americas through his acclaimed design studio Moooi, Marcel Wanders gave us his thoughts on what it takes to be original.


What does “original” mean to you?

Original means “there is at least a true unique differentiator between the new and the existing comparable.”

Knowing that in design new works are often based on recognizable archetypes, I am careful about blaming others for copying. The fact that I use an archetype does not forbid someone else of using the same archetype.  We easily find and point out things in the world and load our claims on them, humbleness is a virtue.

Let us designers not act as so many photographers do, who after taking a photo claim ownership over anything on it. Ultimately “you cannot be a leader if you are not being followed.”


Having created more than 1700 products for many premium brands, how much do you rely on manufacturers to protect your designs from copycats? Do you think they have the tools to do so?

Premium brands protect their designs, and yes, there are ways for us to protect ourselves against copycats. We help our brands by truly making differentiated products. Products that are unique when they are new, and we keep proof, of the making of, to support that. I would not advise a brand to go to war with a design that is not truly original and makes a lawsuit questionable. My designs have been the subject of more than 50 lawsuits, and we have never lost a single one!


Has the possibility of being knocked off ever been discussed during the design process with a brand or client?

It always is a subject in almost every design process, we design things that are preferably difficult or uninteresting to copy and make sure we really have a claim to win a process if we act on potential copycats. Unfortunately lots of great designs have never seen the light of day because they are too easy to copy. We have created a world where newness needs complexity and sufficient barriers of entry in order to be safe, it’s sad but its reality.



Dubbed by the New York Times as the “Lady Gaga of Design,” Amsterdam based Marcel Wanders (Boxtel, Netherlands, 1963) is a prolific product and interior designer and art director, with over 1700+ projects to his name for private clients and premium brands such as Alessi, Bisazza, Kosé Corporation/Cosme Decorte, KLM, Flos, Swarovski, Puma, among scores of others. In 2001 Marcel co-founded the successful design label Moooi, of which he is also Art Director. Regarded by many as an anomaly in the design world, Marcel has made it his mission to “create an environment of love, live with passion and make our most exciting dreams come true.” His work excites, provokes, and polarises, but never fails to surprise for its ingenuity, daring and singular quest to uplift the human spirit, and entertain. Marcel’s chief concern is bringing the human touch back to design, ushering in what he calls design’s ‘new age’; in which designer, craftsperson and user are reunited. In his process, Marcel defies design dogma, preferring instead to focus on holistic solutions rather than the technocratic. In Marcel’s universe, the coldness of industrialism is replaced by the poetry, fantasy and romance of different ages, vividly brought to life in the contemporary moment.

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Profiling the Masters: Alvar Aalto

Recognized today as one of the great masters of architecture, Alvar Aalto’s influence on design is undeniable.

Photo: Eino Mäkinen, Alvar Aalto Museum.

Photo: Eino Mäkinen, Alvar Aalto Museum.

His architecture is uniquely Finnish, and distinctive for its strong relationship to nature, emphasis on function, and attention to detail.

Finnish Pavilion, 1939 World's Fair, designed by Alvar Aalto. Gelatin silver print. Carnegie Museum of Art, Purchase: gift of the Drue Heinz Trust. Image courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art, copyright Ezra Stoller/Esto, Yossi Milo Gallery.

Finnish Pavilion, 1939 World’s Fair, designed by Alvar Aalto. Gelatin silver print. Carnegie Museum of Art, Purchase: gift of the Drue Heinz Trust. Image courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art, copyright Ezra Stoller/Esto, Yossi Milo Gallery.

Aalto began to think of furnishings as a natural extension to his architecture.  In fact, his first pieces of furniture were created in 1931-32 for the Tuberculosis Sanatorium in Paimio, Finland.


Paimio Sanatorium in Finland

Not only was the architecture of the sanatorium optimized to provide ample sun and fresh air – the only then-known cure for tuberculosis – but its furniture was designed be an instrument of healing as well.  The Paimio chair, below, was designed at an angle to provide ease of breathing for patients.


Aalto’s Paimio Chair

Using birch wood native to Finland and a belt wood technique he himself pioneered, Aalto created iconic products from the stacking Stool 60 to the Armchair 400.  Many of his designs continue to be produced by Artek, a company he co-founded.

Armchair 400 and Stool 60, both designed by Alvar Aalto.

Armchair 400 and Stool 60, both designed by Alvar Aalto.

Aside from his furniture, Aalto designed a staple of modern designed spaces worldwide, the Aalto vase:


The Aalto Vase

Aalto’s work was well received in the U.S. and the Museum of Modern Art organized an exhibition of his work in 1938.  The influence of his work can be seen throughout time in designers such as Charles and Ray Eames, who also shared a similar spirit for humanistic design.

Learn more about the masters of design here.

What Happens When You Buy a Knockoff?

Recently, Be Original Americas jetted off to Sin City for a panel at Las Vegas Market with industry experts to address the problem of knockoffs in design.

DJ Carey, Editorial Director of Cottages and Gardens, kicked off the talk by confessing herself to once buying a knockoff handbag in New York for her child.  “What happens when a consumer buys a knockoff?  What are the ramifications?” she asked.

What followed was an expert breakdown of the implications a consumer takes on when purchasing a counterfeit piece:

Jaime Derringer, Founder of Design Milk, joined in to share her experience once owning knockoff Bertoia chairs, an iconic design manufactured by Knoll.  “They were the most uncomfortable chairs I’ve ever sat in.”  Speaking generally about knockoff furniture, Derringer explained, “Even though the form from far away looks the same, once you get up close and start using it, you realize ‘this is not worth even the money I paid for it.'”

Designer Compensation
Josh Mintz, Dwell Store‘s Director of Merchandising, cited decreased designer compensation as a top result of buying knockoffs.  “[Designers and makers] are paying their bills through royalties,” Mintz explained.  “It’s a short cut taken by other people, to cash in on other people’s ideas and work.  […] The economy is rewarding people that it shouldn’t.”

The Creative Process
Knockoffs undermine the creative process, asserted Howard Thornton, SFMoma‘s museum store buyer.  Speaking about the investment of time, energy, and money that goes into a new product, Thornton said: “[Designers and manufacturers] are taking a risk to bring something to market. […] When somebody comes along and knocks that off, it undermines that process that people have invested in.”

The Economy
Citing a recent study on counterfeits, Carey explained: “The estimated global value of knockoffs is 1.77 trillion dollars, accounting for 5-7% of the world trade and 750,000 jobs that are lost each year.”

What effects of buying a knockoff would you add to this list?  Comment below or let us know via Twitter.

Profiling the Masters: Isamu Noguchi

Image Courtesy of Noguchi Museum

Image Courtesy of Noguchi Museum

“Everything is sculpture.” – Isamu Noguchi

As we take a look at design throughout history, no list would not be complete with Isamu Noguchi.

Born in Los Angeles in 1904, the midcentury master is perhaps best known for his eponymous Noguchi Table, a coffee table made of two interlocking curly cues of wood, topped with a triangular glass slab.  First created in 1947, the table continues to be produced by Herman Miller today.

Image Courtesy of Herman Miller

Image Courtesy of Herman Miller

Although hard to believe, Noguchi initially studied pre-med at Columbia.  It was during evening sculpture classes on New York’s Lower East Side that Noguchi found his true calling.

Noguchi traveled extensively, maintaining studios in Japan and New York City, and completing large scale works in Mexico.

A political mural created in Mexico, 1936.

A political mural created in Mexico, 1936. Image courtesy Noguchi Museum.

With work ranging from sculpture to set design to ceramics to furniture and lighting, Noguchi was never one to limit his work to any single discipline.  Over his lifetime, Noguchi collaborated with choreographers Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham, composer John Cage, and even muralist Diego Rivera.


Noguchi’s set design for Martha Graham’s Herodiade

Today, people flock to the Noguchi Museum in Long Island City, New York.  Established by the artist himself, the space includes a serene outdoor sculpture garden and galleries full of his work.

Noguchi Museum

What is your favorite work of Noguchi’s?


Original Design: Where to Start?


Recently Be Original Americas joined the IIDA New York Chapter to discuss the importance of protecting designers’ original work.

Hosted in the NYC Herman Miller showroom, the panel was moderated by John Czarnecki, Editor in Chief, Contract, and included Dror Benshetrit, Studio Dror, Sam Grawe, Global Brand Director, Herman Miller, and Rebecca Dorris Steiger, designer, Gensler.

Kicking off the conversation, Benshetrit defined what makes something a knockoff, an inspired piece, or a completely innovative design with his “scale of originality”:

“At the very bottom of the scale, there are the direct knockoffs.  I want to make this chair exactly like that and I’m just going to make it because I can make it for cheaper, or whatever motivations I have.

Then of course the next level:  I’m going to be inspired by this chair to make something similar to it, and it has the flavor of this chair.

Up to, at the very top, past the roof of originality.  Let’s call it innovative, avant garde, cutting edge, ahead of the curve.”


Grawe took it one step further to explain the importance of design history:

“Nothing is completely original.  We are all influenced all of the time.  I think sometimes in design, designers want to create a picture, this divine inspiration.  Of course there are wonderfully innovative things that happen and designers have original designs and I think there’s companies that do things to foster producing those designs, but […] I also think that without Aalto you wouldn’t have Eames.”


For more, read Office Insight’s recap of this event.

Interesting in learning more about how originality can impact everyone?  Join Be Original Americas and learn more.  Our next talk will be with retailers at Las Vegas Market – we hope to see you there.

The Real Price of Knockoffs

What is the real price of knockoffs?  We’ve all heard how the culture of counterfeits has affected fashion and music, but how does this culture really affect the design industry?  How does it affect us on a human level, both as consumers and as makers?



Dwell on Design recently invited Be Original Americas to discuss this topic in Los Angeles.  Cory Grosser, Brand Strategist & Educator, moderated the talk with panelists Jaime Derringer, Founder & Editor, Design Milk, Jon Sherman, Founder & Creative Director, Flavor Paper, Josh Mintz, Director of Merchandising, Dwell Store, and Stanley Felderman, Designer, Felderman Keatinge + Associates.

To kick off the talk, Grosser asked Jon Sherman how knockoffs have impacted Flavor Paper’s business.

“As a manufacturer, you’re always trying to build trust with your consumers.  One of the things that comes along with building this trust is taking the time and spending the money to build a product that is trustworthy. People come to expect from your brand a certain type of quality, safety, durability, longevity.  And these things take time and money to ensure that it’s going to built into the products.  When people take something that has been tested and reproduce them with lesser quality materials, toxic based inks, things of that nature, they are not only watering down your design, but they’re also producing a product that’s inferior and risky.”


Switching focus to the internet, Grosser called the online marketplace a “breeding ground for copies.” Josh Mintz spoke about selling authentic design, from a merchandising perspective: “When we launched the Dwell Store business obviously there was a responsibility to lead the way in the same way that our editorial team has.  There was never a question as to whether we were going to sell authentic product.”

Explaining the royalty model, Stanley Felderman outlined how purchasing an inauthentic product directly hurts both individual designer and manufacturer:

“The economic model of being a furniture designer or someone that designs accessories is usually based on a royalty system.  So you may get some money up front, or you may not.  Everyone that sells – just like if you’re an author of a book – you get a percentage of that particular sale.  So if someone is moving their purchase from an original design to an inauthentic design, not only is the manufacturer not getting their sale, but the designer isn’t getting their royalty either.”


Jaime Derringer, speaking about the decline of innovation, argued that knockoffs are partly to blame:

“Purchasing inauthentic design stifles innovation in a sense, because you’re basically taking food off the plates of these designers and they go out of business and they’re no longer able to design or produce innovative product.  It’s really unfortunate because what you’re left with is lesser quality products.”

As a final word, Jon Sherman called on architects and interior designers in particular to step up their standards: “As a designer, what you’re selling is your thought and your originality, and so if you’re using a knockoff product you’re really belittling yourself and taking away from your own vision by not paying homage to those before you who have done the same.”

What is the most important argument for supporting authentic design to you?  How do you help spread the word about Be Original Americas?




WantedDesign: Discussing Authentic Design Online

Do you now shop more online than at brick-and-mortar stores?  In this new, ever-shifting marketplace, ensuring a purchase is authentic has become tougher than ever.  At the same time, “good design” has made online shopping thrive, as friendly user experiences make checking out from a desktop or smartphone easy and effective.

Left to Right: Gregg Buchbinder, Bradford Shellhammer, Max Fraser, and Amanda Dameron

Left to Right: Gregg Buchbinder, Bradford Shellhammer, Max Fraser, and Amanda Dameron

Amanda Dameron, Editor-in-Chief of Dwell recently joined us at WantedDesign for an in-depth discussion on the topic, “Authentic Design Online.”  With the Conversation Room packed, Dameron was joined by Bradford Shellhammer, Founder and CEO, Bezar, Gregg Buchbinder, President and CEO, Emeco, and Max Fraser, design writer, curator and editor of London Design Guide.

The Conversation Room at WantedDesign

The Conversation Room at WantedDesign

How can the design community assert and promote quality through these intangible online channels?

Max Fraser spoke about the market’s priorities, citing price and comfortability as key, while Amanda Dameron brought up consumer confusion.  For example, one might confuse an authentic design, one known to be comfortable and well made, with an inferior knockoff:

“Of course, quality costs.  Sound manufacturing costs.”  Dameron discussed the disconnect in information at consumers’ fingertips:

Gregg Buchbinder further discusses consumer confusion, and shares an example of misinformation spread by a “design blog” online:

But what’s missing from the conversation?  The availability of affordable authentic alternatives for those who can’t afford a luxury item, says Bradford Shellhammer. Smart merchandising, he argues, can make an impact:

What do you see as the design industry’s biggest challenge in promoting authenticity online?  How do you ensure your online purchases are authentic?  Comment below or tweet us your thoughts @BeOriginalUSA.