Copying products is a growing problem in the garden retail industry, with innovative companies having dozens of ongoing "me too" cases. At this month's retail trade show Glee, several exhibitors voiced concerns about other companies at the show displaying similar products to theirs. Trade body Anti Copying in Design (ACID) was on hand to field concerns and reported one client with 37 copies in circulation.
Wildlife World managing director Norman Sellers said: "We do a serious product, not a "me too" thing. We have stopped four big companies copying by taking legal action. On some products you just accept 'me toos'. Our ladybird tower and solitary beehives you will see all over the show."
He added: "We have European design rights protection but copying is one of the big concerns of coming to a show like Glee. It takes us one or two years to develop a product like our new Ground Feeder, but a copy from China takes four weeks."
Sellers, who said increased awareness of the plight of bees has led to a 20 per cent increase in sales in the wildlife sector, uses ACID Copywatch services to protect intellectual property.
Scotts Miracle-Gro general manager Sheila Hill said she expects to see "me too" products but what concerns her is that "they are never the best quality". After Scotts launched Flower Magic it saw 35 products hit the market that had similarities, most of which brought consumer disappointment. "I want people to be delighted with their growing experience so they come back for more," she added. "It's easy to come in, trash the price and spoil the result for the consumer."
Vivid Arts, which has pioneered the resin animal market over the past nine years and has 1,000 retail customers, launched Miniature World at Glee. Sales director Paul McGuire said he used eBay's Vero verification programme to try and stop copies being sold on the auction site. People selling casts to make concrete copies are the biggest problem, he added. "We're not anti-competition, but you have to stand your corner."
Bosmere sales and marketing director Steve Millington said: "We're strong in covers and we always try to be the leader. We research what will come into the furniture market 12 months in advance so we can design covers to fit that season's ranges. Johnny-come-latelys are 12 months behind. That's one way of protecting yourself because people will always make poor copies.
"The garden centre market doesn't need to cut prices, it needs to be the best quality. DIYs have massive volume so why do garden centres try to compete by downgrading? In garden centres they've gone from the cheapest outdoor furniture to £1,500-£2,000 suites because people are prepared to wait for something they want that adds value to their lives. It's like plants - they are better-quality from the garden centre."
Legal issue: infringements of copyright increasingly common
McDaniel & Co lawyer Kelly Hudson is the legal adviser for Anti Copying in Design (ACID). She said ACID has "found a lot of copying" in the garden market since first exhibiting at Glee in 2010. She has one gardening client with 37 copyright infringements and 10 ongoing cases in gardening.
"Copying is certainly increasing in the garden sector, possibly because garden centres have diversified so much," she suggested.
ACID said: "We’re a trade association for the designer/manufacturer and we educate people around trademarking and give independent third-party evidence. The most important thing is to be informed. A lot of people are positive they have intellectual property rights, but they have no idea really."
Recently, with ACID’s help, Burgon & Ball received undertakings from Greenman Garden Products and VegTrug that ensured continued protection of its intellectual property rights. ACID said: "Burgon & Ball is determined to ensure that its significant research, design and development will not be eroded by any unauthorised use of its intellectual property rights."