The Joy of FRED Blog

Fred Targeted

‎Posted May 01, 2008 in Commentary, Company News. Tagged with .

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. We should be extremely flattered then, that Target has chosen to duplicate one of our most popular items, Ice Kabobs. How come we don't feel so good then? Target has just unveiled a new line by fashion designer Cynthia Rowley. The "Whim Line" is a collection of summertime party items ranging from table cloths to beach chairs, and yes, ice trays. To say that this tray was "inspired" by our product would be an understatement. Target has even named it the "kabob ice cube tray". Clever! They have managed to cheapen it though, by making it smaller, using inferior materials, and packaging it in a polybag. When companies like Target or Ikea release furniture that "looks" like expensive designer originals, many people (and I include myself here) tend to accept it and look the other way because they are making something available to the masses that previously only the elite could enjoy. But that doesn't diminish the fact that the original design does belong to someone else, and is the product of their ingenuity, investment, risk-taking, blood, sweat, and tears. In this case, the original product isn’t even high-priced; it’s pretty much affordable to everybody – so the Robin Hood metaphor really doesn’t play. I'm not quite sure how much control Cynthia Rowley or any of the name-brand designers have over their Target lines. This is pure speculation on my part, but I see this as more likely a situation where some gutless Target “merchandiser” bought a bunch of stuff in the specialty market, dumbed it down and squeezed out some of the cost (and quality), coordinated the colors, and sought a designer-for-hire to give it cachet. That’s not how we do things here at Fred & Friends, I can tell you that. We are strongly focused on original ideas, good value, and support of local retail. We really enjoy what we do, and thrive on the wonderful feedback our customers have been giving us. So, what do YOU think? I’d love to know where our customers think the boundaries of fair competition lie and how you feel about this David vs. Goliath story. UPDATE: Go see what Blue Ant Studio has compiled on Target's "inspired" product history. Very interesting dialog from everyone. Thanks.

Comments

MLC, on 05/01/08

damn the bastards

Justin, on 05/05/08

Being a 2nd year lawsuit, having just completed an Intellectual Property exam - I think you should seek legal counsel.  The photo itself is powerful.  Good luck!

anon, on 05/05/08

as a designer she knows better not to copy other’s design.
boo.

if i were her, i would demand target to withdraw these items and take her name off them, and sell them in the clearance pile.

DailyDigital » Blog Archive » Ice keba, on 05/05/08

[...] Link [...]

anon, on 05/05/08

What Target did was mistake, but I can see how this mistake was perpetrated since Fred has done this itself with a number of its products.

To illustrate, take this example: Fred receives an outside submission from a designer who has “copied” a design. Fred doesn’t realize that it’s a “copied” design and proceeds to license and produce it. It’s an honest mistake on the part of Fred, but still a rip-off. Could this be the case with Target?

Fred should scour the design blogs and revisit its “Stacked Cups” and “XXL” headphones, close rip-offs of other people’s designs.

anon2, on 05/05/08

IKEA has a similar product.

artwmn, on 05/05/08

I’d seek legal advice on this one too. It’s too compelling not to.

I look at it as theft.

Kevin, on 05/05/08

I have had some professional dealings with Target and found them to be not entirely honorable.  As a matter of fact, their practices have led me to spend more money elsewhere to get the “real” stuff, rather than the knockoffs.  I shop there solely for toiletries now, and only because they are a slightly lesser evil than WalMart.  Soon, I imagine I won’t be shopping there at all.  This is certainly pushing me in that direction.

Please pursue this.  You are clearly in the right and will surely be vindicated… but don’t expect them to be reasonable of their own free will.  You’ll have to go Jackie Chiles on their asses.

mike, on 05/05/08

I would think that Cynthia did not really know she was ripping something off and would find it not in her best interest to do so.  I would try to get in contact with her group.

dangster, on 05/05/08

Not Cool!

Cindy, on 05/05/08

Haha I’m so gonna get one of these!

rachel, on 05/05/08

It is pretty similar, but I have seen ice cube skewers since the mid ‘90s that are also pretty similar. It’s a hard call.

Hillary, on 05/05/08

Check out the us patent & trademark site or the library of copyright and you’ll see how similiar designs can be before they are considered a true ripoff.  Having an original idea is getting harder & harder to claim.  Always cover your a**!

Fred, on 05/05/08

This is Fred, and I’d like to reply to this thoughtful comment left by Anon:

What Target did was mistake, but I can see how this mistake was perpetrated since Fred has done this itself with a number of its products.

To illustrate, take this example: Fred receives an outside submission from a designer who has “copied” a design. Fred doesn’t realize that it’s a “copied” design and proceeds to license and produce it. It’s an honest mistake on the part of Fred, but still a rip-off. Could this be the case with Target?

Fred should scour the design blogs and revisit its “Stacked Cups” and “XXL” headphones, close rip-offs of other people’s designs.

First, I entirely accept the possibility that Cynthia Rowley may be more-or-less innocent in this deal, although by allowing her name to be placed on the product she does assume some accountability. I also accept the possibility that the Target buyer found the knock-off product pre-existing in some showroom in China, and may have chosen it in good faith as well. However, I must add that if the buyer or Cynthia Rowley’s staff had done ANY due diligence at all I think our product would have been quite visible on the web and at retail.

The commenter also contends that we have been guilty of similar behavior, and points to the Stacked Cups and 500XL as examples. For the record, the Stacked cup was designed by Monica Tsang Ka Ki, who showed it at a couple of Designboom Markets; she later licensed the product to Vice Versa of Italy, and we buy th product from them. Perhaps the commenter had seen Monica’s original production on the Designboom website and assumed that we copied it? We did not.

The other instance that the commenter pointed out is more troubling. Our 500XL idea was originally proposed by a HK designer with whom I work regularly. This man has impeccable integrity (he is currently the chairman of the HK Designer’s Association), so when he proposed it I frankly overlooked the due diligence step of scouring the blogs. As a result I missed the design study for a similar product proposed by Alex Garnett at Mixko. Although our design looks dramatically different from Alex’s the basic premise is similar, and it would have been nice to reward Alex’s creativity by developing the product with him.  Alas by the time Alex made me aware of his design, I had already signed a contractual agreement with my HK designer and was well along on the tooling. I have apologized to Alex and I have since tried to be extra diligent in this area.

I hope my original post did not sound too sanctimonious, because I absolutely realize this whole area of “whose idea is it anyhow” is slippery, ambiguous, and full of clashing egos. I just thought this example with Target was particularly egregious and a good opportunity to get a dialog going. It seems I’ve been successful at that!

Malinda Kay, on 05/05/08

From a fashion industry perspective, I can 99% guarantee you that Cynthia Rowley had nothing to do with designing ice cube trays.

Jared Girman, on 05/05/08

I worked for a company designing housewares for companies like Target and Wal-Mart.  There were several cases where we submitted original designs that showed up on their shelves produced by someone else (most likely direct from one of their own Chinese vendors).  As our largest clients we were unable to voice complaints and there was no way to protect ourselves.  It is the nature of the industry right now that these corporate giants hold all the cards.  Please seek some action against them, they are destroying another layer of the North America economy.

nikki, on 05/05/08

do you want some cheese…............. need i say more? get over it! they’re probably charging cheaper for the product and making it less of a ripoff

Tony, on 05/07/08

Patent your designs, kids.

joe, on 05/07/08

News of the plagiarism on NOT-COT is how I first encountered Fred and Friends, now I know who you are and what you sell.

Ice Kabobs! « Creative Accidents: First pond, on 05/12/08

[...] Super cute! (via) [...]

Simone, on 06/10/08

I love Fred and Friends and own many of their products!
The target rip-off is just a cheap and poorly made imitation, there are copies of everything out there its up to the person to decide which one they are happier with, they can try but it will never be as great as the originals that’s why they are “fakes” I’m still going to continue purchasing Fred items and not their imitations because at the end of the day, their products will last, look better and work better.
So they can try to make imitations but once again nothing is better than the original.

Signed
Fred Fan

John Spiers, on 08/04/08

Fred and Friends reminds me of the giftware company I managed in SF 30 years ago, Vandor Imports.  A couple of points: 1.  if you are any good, they will steal your ideas.  2. The rip-offs are sold to people who are not or will not be your customers.  You are out absolutely nothing because of rip-offs.  3. Never protect your ideas; marketing, not protection makes you successful.  4. Big companies apply their economies of scale to lower the price and make the material benefit accessible to all.  This is good.  If you wish to join the big companies, then hold an IPO to get the money to buy the economies of scale.  5.  Self-employment is about a lifestyle, not money.  Lawsuits are about money, and make for a hellish life. 

Forget about protection and enjoy your life.

John Spiers
www.johnspiers.com

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