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Opinion: Sticking to the code and why we should be discouraging copycats

This week’s industry opinion comes from Victor Caddy, partner at Wynne Jones IP, a firm specialising in copyright and protection. Caddy has over 25 years as a specialist trademark and design attorney. He once appeared in an episode of The Sweeney.

Copycat toys look like the real thing. They have a different name, of course, but the message conveyed
is usually the same, and the clever use of similar imagery and colours on the packaging sends subliminal messages to the unwary consumer.

But, here’s the problem. Lookalike products should be illegal but copycats are clever and determined when it comes to finding weaknesses in IP protection. By adopting a different name, copycats avoid trade mark infringement; by adopting different artwork, they avoid copyright infringement (which requires proof of copying) and design registration isn’t always available for toy and game manufacturers and tends to be neglected.

To help toy and game developers get just rewards for their hard work, and toy and game manufacturers just rewards for their investment in bringing new toys and games to market, we’re discouraging the manufacture, stocking, and sale of fake toys and games, to make it easier for consumers to spot and avoid fakes.

Of course, we need the support and goodwill of the industry – and, judging by the feedback we have had so far, we have that in abundance. But we need more than just goodwill – we think that, if the industry supports this initiative, we can discourage manufacturers from creating copycat products and retailers from stocking them by the use of a collective or certification mark that can only be used by those who adhere to the code.

Our vision is of a pioneering industry that promotes a fair and safety conscious trading environment that recognises and rewards the intellectual investment of toy and game creators, even where the law may be too blunt an instrument to be of much help.

In reality, lookalikes are cheap and inferior, and then there’s the issue of safety standards. In a recent study, the BTHA purchased 200 toys from online stores and found that 58 per cent were illegal to sell in the UK as they failed to meet safety regulations, and 22 per cent had serious safety failures.

Inferior lookalike products don’t just hit profit mar- gins – they also tarnish reputations. Many consumers simply do not realise they bought a fake. Even if they do, they may think it is just the same product in an un- official guise, without the premium pricing of properly branded toy. By the time they realise their mistake, it is often too late.

Last December, trading standards officers in Lincolnshire seized fake versions of the LOL Surprise! Doll that were being sold locally after they received complaints from angry parents who thought they were buying the genuine product.

About Robert Hutchins

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