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The fight to beat design theft – Teemo chats with ACID founder Dids Macdonald

The fight to beat design theft – Teemo chats with ACID founder Dids Macdonald

In the children’s book Burglar Bill, a thief goes around stealing anything he can lay his hands on: “That’s a nice toothbrush… I’ll have that!… That’s a nice tin of beans…. I’ll have that!” And on it goes until Bill himself gets burgled, which shows him the error of his ways.

Every industry has its Burglar Bills, and furniture is no exception. Copying is rife and the biggest culprits are those with little design experience who don’t realise how much work goes into creating concepts.


Above: An example of alleged design theft. West Elm’s Orb chair (left) and Amazon’s Rivet chair show remarkable similarities. West Elm parent company Williams-Sonoma sued Amazon and the case was settled out of court. Source: Fox Business.


We know the pain of becoming a victim of design theft only too well at Teemo. There are times when we’ve ploughed hundreds of hours into making pieces that are beautiful and functionally unique, only for a rival, factory or retailer to say, “I’ll have that!”. The two hours it takes to steal a design may result in us losing up to 30% of revenue.

The question is, what can you do about it? The answer is to join ACID’s Anti-Copying in Design. ACID is a brilliant membership trade organisation set up by designers for designers and manufacturers. It campaigns to protect intellectual property and we’ve worked with them closely for years. Indeed, they are currently helping us fight a live case of alleged IP theft.

When we joined ACID, CEO Dids Macdonald OBE and her team reviewed our practices and advised us how to improve our IP strategy. Where we had doubts about taking legal action against copycats, ACID gave us the courage to proceed. Today we continue to work closely with Dids and her team, religiously logging each new design in the ACID IP Databank.

There’s a great story behind ACID. We chatted to Dids to find out more…

Dids Macdonald

How did ACID start?

Dids says: “Back in the1990s, a colleague and I started Holbein, a company producing hand-painted decorative accessories for top interior designers. The business was a great success. But it came with a huge problem: theft. Every time we launched a design, it was knocked off by larger companies without any hope of redress. Like many of Britain’s designers, we were a tiny outfit. We couldn’t take on unscrupulous thieves and copycats. We had no idea where to start.

“So I came up with another idea: to create a plan to help David fight Goliath. Today, ACID represents thousands of individual designers and companies. We’re here to help the good guys defeat the bad and promote design originality as a real route to growth: for the creators, not design thieves!”

What’s ACID’s proudest achievement?

“Fast-forward a couple of decades and ACID now helps businesses to protect their IP. ACID’s campaigning arm raises awareness about design’s significance to the UK economy, not only for its members but for designers in general. In October 2014, the IP Act was passed, following a 15-year-long campaign spearheaded by ACID to criminalise the intentional infringement of a registered design.

“The idea behind the IP Act was to simplify and strengthen design protection for the UK’s hugely important design sector. It also sends a clear deterrent message to copyists.

“ACID’s legal affiliates have helped in thousands of successful settlements over the years and actively support our grassroots mediation initiative with over 4,000 interventions.”

“February is a real opportunity to achieve ACID’s other objective, which is to introduce criminal provisions for the intentional infringement of an unregistered design, and, after much heckling and cajoling, there is now an opportunity to make it happen. ACID’s wants a shout out to all designers and manufacturers to complete the survey by Februaru 7 and Intellectual Property Office Calls for Views by March 25. Is the UK system fit for purpose? have your say NOW!”

What’s your advice for designers?

“Intellectual capital is a key asset, so creating a proactive IP strategy is vital. Logging designs in our Databank means a responsible third party has evidence confirming the date the designs were received and can show an essential audit trail if anyone copies them. Annually, around 25,000 designs are lodged on ACID’s Design Databank. All our members support ACID and we support them. A united voice is a strong voice.

“Education and awareness, creating a proactive IP strategy to achieve growth through innovation and using the ACID brand to communicate a zero-tolerance of IP theft remain our priorities. Support comes in many ways: access to IP experts for free initial advice on contentious and non-contentious matters, IP webinars, events, support at exhibitions and ongoing articles, tips and advice via social media and our website. We have generic agreements which can be tailored to suit the needs of designers for licensing, collaboration, confidentiality, etc.”

We’re huge fans of ACID and its work, so our advice at Teemo is join up, work with them and support them. That way, we’ll deter more Burglar Bills and may even get some to see the error of their ways.

Find out more about ACID here.