Real vs Replica: Herman Miller reaches settlement with Matt Blatt

Nov 3, 2011
  • Article by Online Editor
  • Designer

Herman Miller has settled its latest court dispute with Australian company Matt Blatt, over claims the replica furniture producer was passing off imitation Eames furniture designs as originals.

American furniture brand Herman Miller announced it was taking legal action against Matt Blatt in September, claiming the company’s website was misleading consumers as to the authenticity of certain items by selling counterfeit furniture – specifically, copies of certain Charles and Ray Eames pieces – that were not clearly identified as replicas. Herman Miller, a company whose history dates back to 1905, has been producing Eames designs since the 1940s and owns the rights to produce and sell Eames originals.

Herman Miller elected to take the dispute over the Eames trademark to the Federal Court of Australia, and the matter has now been settled. The terms of the settlement remain confidential, however the Matt Blatt website currently displays the following message: “Matt Blatt’s replica products are not manufactured or approved by, or affiliated with, the original designers, manufacturers or distributors including Herman Miller, Charles or Ray Eames, Knoll, Fritz Hansen, Flos, Studio Italia, Giogali, Artemide Spa, Tolix or Xavier Pauchard.” The Eames imitation designs are identified as replicas across the website, though they still retain the ‘Eames’ in their product name.

This latest legal battle is not the first time Herman Miller has gone public with the battle against replica furniture – Matt Blatt gave a public and legally binding undertaking to Herman Miller in 2006 to clearly identify the imitation Eames designs it sells as replicas.

Jeremy Hocking, Vice President of Herman Miller Asia Pacific, said: “Some peddlers of copy products mislead the public into thinking they are buying the iconic Eames products designed for Herman Miller. It has once again taken legal action by us to ensure that a distributor does not misuse Herman Miller’s trademarks and design credentials to mislead the public.”

Hocking continued: “Nevertheless we are satisfied with the radical changes to Matt Blatt’s website that were implemented immediately after our legal proceedings commenced. I’m pleased to say that Tebi Pty Limited (trading as Matt Blatt) have also given a further public and legally binding undertaking… that gives further protection to Herman Miller’s rights. So we’re happy and we think all manufacturers of original and authentic designs will also be happy that we’ve been able to win this small but significant battle for the ethics of authentic design.”

Herman Miller is one of over 40 members of the Authentic Design Alliance, an organisation established in 2010 to support the integrity of original, authentic design and protect the intellectual property rights of designers and licensed manufacturers.

For more recent ADR coverage regarding IP rights in Australia and internationally click here.

Conversation • 22 comments

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03 Nov 11 at 8:31 AM • Is this the best outcome?

Even though this might be a small victory for Herman Miller and possibly have a trickle on effect for other designers/design houses and “original” retailers, I really don’t believe that measures such as imploring Matt Blatt to use the quote “Matt Blatt’s replica products are not manufactured or approved by” on their website, whilst still using references to the Eames brand in their products really cut it. Consumers will still buy rip-offs regardless of these disclaimers. Not that I endorse it, but If you really want to buy knock-offs, Matt Blatt ironically isn’t the cheapest place to acquire them.

It’s simply lacking in intestinal fortitude and unethical when knock-off retailers profit from the hard work of designers and their respective design houses, whilst undercutting retailers that sell the originals. Please tell me what R&D investment, intellectual application, sheer dogged determination in getting their products to market and good old blood, sweat and tears that knock-off retailers have put into their products – is that crickets I hear?

03 Nov 11 at 11:00 AM • Terri Winter

Just a visit to their “designers” page is enough to showcase the slippery manner in which they draw people through google searches and misleading information. Listing complete bio’s of the designers they have ripped off is like adding salt to the wound. The ‘victory’ is a long way off yet. We can ONLY HOPE that there may be one or two people who buy a replica chair and then are embarrassed enough on the comments that they have a knock-off to consider an original one next time…. We can always hope.

03 Nov 11 at 10:01 PM • Herman Miller...Not the winner!

It is quite amazing to see prime time television evening news showing police and customs officers seizing millions of dollars of replica handbags, watches and clothing yet Herman Miller can’t use the Federal Court of Australia to stop the same criminal intent in the furniture industry. I guess Louis Vuitton is about 100 times bigger than Miller in market capital and hence the weak outcome of what promised to be an end to the criminal activity in the design industry is about 100 times less successful. It would be nice to see a real multinational take the stage and end this serial carnage of our design industry. Adam Drexler you are a still fool.

04 Nov 11 at 12:19 AM • Contrarian

Herman Miller has made a fortune from the long dead Eames. Any patents and/or registered designs which they may have held expired decades ago, because the law wisely only grants patents for a limited period of time….that is so that design can move on and new young designers can stand on the shoulders of former greats.

Herman Miller and similar companies are not supporting design; they are limiting it by OWNING it. They are no defender of ” designer’s rights” they are simply trying to maintain their profit margin in the face of someone selling similar products cheaper. The designers ( if they were alive) would get diddly squat out of this. It is about Herman Miller’s profit, not some crusade against copies.

This whole industry is mired in the past. There is no other business where tired old designs are labelled “classics” and the sheep all pay homage to the classics.

The trouble for real designers today is that they can’t get a look in because the design school sheep have been trained to want more of something that was designed 50 years ago, be it ” real” or ” replica”.

The design community has got this backwards. They should be protesting against any company that “owns” designers. They should be buying and supporting new designs by folks you have never heard of not just trotting out the same tired old hacks.

Anyone who buys and supports either Herman Miller’s “originals” or Matt Blatt’s “replicas” demonstates that all that they know about furniture design is what they learnt in an old book or someone told them.

Can you imagine driving a car from 50 years ago, or watching a TV from that time. Things improve, new materials develop, new engineering possibilities open up.

Real design moves on, but instead you are being enlisted to the army of sheep to defend Herman Miller’s profit and like lambs to become unpaid advocates for dead designers.

04 Nov 11 at 7:58 AM • Keeping it Replica

HM- Not the winner asks why customs officers are not seizing replicas. Under which law were you thinking? ..and pray tell what action would you raise in the Federal Court of Australia? Can’t be a Patent or a Registered Design, they last 16 years at best. Can’t be trademark as they are clearly not calling it HM. Can’t be copyright as they are commercial goods.

Here’s the reality people. There was no victory for HM in this case, because HM simply have no basis in law to complain. It was a settlement where Matt Blatt agreed to keep doing what they have been doing. It was for all for show; for the benefit of designer people who don’t know a thing about IP law, but who would like to think that HM have some rights to some old designs. They don’t, and picking up Contrarian’s point, perhaps they should not.

When exactly did it become the job of designers to throw their lot in with HM and try to protect their profits? Design is design, it’s not about protecting stuff that was paid for decades ago. It’s about moving forward or have we all sold our brains and our souls for a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, a canape and slick line from a salesman.

I’m no fan or “replicas”, but then again I’m no fan of “originals” either. I just think the whole discussion is being driven by guys who want to protect their $ on old designs and it is weird that real designers have an opinion either way.

Much more important is to be buying new designs which encourage reinvestment, not lining the pockets of guys who keep punching out like sausages, long-expired Registered Designs.

05 Nov 11 at 9:24 PM • Is this the best outcome?

To “Contrarian” and “Keeping it Replica”,

Although I appreciate the prominence that the Eames Classics products might have over so called “new designs” – lets be honest and acknowledge that many “new designs” are derivatives of many classics. Given this I find your comments to be highly disrespectful and ignorant of the knock-on effects that plagiarising has on the industry, in terms of ethical labour conditions in the countries where these replicas are made, the environmental impact caused by these replicas and the lack of respect in terms of economic value for designer pieces that is perpetuated by this practice.

It’s not just old designs, but new ones that are being ripped off, and this opportunistic culture of “if I see a good idea, then I’ll sell it” has to stop for design not to be seen as a disheartening waste of time and passion.

If it wasn’t for these classics that were only successful because of companies such as Herman Miller investing in them, then we’d be in a very different place right now and there would be far less diversity in design, given their profound influence and inspiration on todays designers.

P.S “Weird that real designers have an opinion either way”, first of all, you’d better make sure that they’re real designers you’re talking about (this has to be one of the most ambiguous statements I’ve ever heard) and secondly this effects the whole industry including “real designers”.

07 Nov 11 at 1:16 AM • A Designer

IP needs protecting… for designers, for design companies and yes, even for design corporates.
IP needs protecting… unless of course, you have nothing of value to sell.

09 Nov 11 at 1:27 AM • Keeping it Replica

To everyone who is complaining about IP law, please tell me what IP law you think has been breached here. The IP in the replica products expired decades ago. In case you did not know; that’s how it works.

The purpose of the law where IP expires on Patent and RD is to ensure that design moves on, that concepts that are in the public domain can be usefully employed by others in the quest for improvements.i.e. that designers can design.

Anchoring your view of what is good on a name or in a time period is not in the real interests of design, just in maintaining corporate profits on old stuff.

and to ” Is this the best outcome?” I would say that if a new product has a registered design or patent then of course it can and should be protected against copying, but you need to understand the law here.

Further you need to get your language right here. This is not plagiarism this is product copying and the law which affects it is Patent and RD. If the Patent or RD has expired, it has expired. If not and you have a design or concept worth protecting then sue the copyists arses off.

As regards your notion that design is more diverse because companies promote one designer, this is self evident stupidity. The discussion here is about one design being made over and over and over again, not just by one company, but by many. This is the very opposite of diversity. It is the victory of marketing over design and you have thrown your lot in with marketing not design.

It is precisely this attitude which is killing genuine product design in Australia. We are being asked to pick between two marketing companies, both of whom are selling concepts developed by Americans and Germans half a century ago. ….and this helps real product design in Australia today how?

09 Nov 11 at 11:50 AM • Is this the best outcome?

To “Keeping it Replica”,

It’s obvious that you have an axe to grind with Herman Miller. Technically speaking nobody has made reference to “IP Law”, but to IP which is totally different and is owned in perpetuity – this is why the replicas are still referred to as Eames pieces. You obviously don’t understand IP if you can’t make this basic distinction. Any work you produce remains your IP (as long as you work for yourself that is) without needing to fulfil any IP registration or lodgement protocol.

I find it rather puerile arguing semantics and points of law (which can be changed), rather than highlighting the fact that the the replica industry relies heavily upon opportunism, laziness and a lack of good-will.

Not that I’m an employee of Herman Miller, but again I find it disrespectful that you so vehemently oppose Herman Miller’s practice of protecting what is rightfully theirs, given that the Eames designs have been “licensed” to them by the Eames Foundation, hence the descendants of Charles and Ray Eames are still compensated for their accomplishments, and the replica industry is denying them of what is rightfully there’s under legally binding license agreements.

Your quote: “can be usefully employed by others in the quest for improvements.i.e. that designers can design”.

My Reply: Producing a replica does in no way improve upon a piece, if anything it becomes a poorly executed facsimile, that indirectly associates poor quality with the original and does nothing to progress design. How is mass-producing what has been done before assisting with or generating new ideas?

Your quote “As regards your notion that design is more diverse because companies promote one designer, this is self evident stupidity.”

My Reply: Last I checked the Charles and Ray Eames were two people. Also last I checked, Herman Miller have been responsible for promoting more than one designer over the years. Interestingly if it wasn’t for Herman Miller intervening, Living Edge would have gone to the wall and the Australian design industry and consumer market would be all the poorer and less diverse for it, whilst having no appreciation for the work of Woodmark (numerous Australian designers), Trent Jansen (Australian), Marc Newson (Australian), Established & Sons, Michael Young, Andreu World, Walter Knoll, the list goes on.

Your quote: “The discussion here is about one design being made over and over and over again, not just by one company, but by many. This is the very opposite of diversity.”

My Reply: This is what everybody has been trying to argue and it seems that you’ve only just realised the point. By the federal government not generating legislation which applies restrictions/tariffs or any form of license infringement upon replica goods, then replica businesses (retailers, importers, wholesalers, etc) have no motivation or incentive to invest in new designs or designers. The replica industry is inherently perpetuating a lack of diversity, given that consumers who can’t afford the “real” thing” will buy a copy, due to a lack of education about quality and original new designs whilst trying to attain a “designer lifestyle”.

In summary the design industry and consumers would be far better off if designers and design houses such as Herman Miller were able to exercise a monopoly over design works which they have invested in so heavily. Governments (in this case the Australian Federal Government) must generate legislation which protects original design in perpetuity, which will therefore force retailers who would have otherwise invested in selling replicas, to invest in new designs and designers, ensuring diversity and evolution rather than stagnation.

10 Nov 11 at 5:52 AM • Keeping it Replica

No axe to grind at all with HM, they are a good company, but this is not their finest hour.
Can’t show the same regard though for Living Edge who with some of the best product lines in the world cannot run a business….morons. Not sure which one pays your salary but I do hope it’s HM.

You remain unwilling to understand the realities of how the law of product design works and keep injecting vague notions of rights and moral judgements on what was a legal case. There is no such thing as IP without IP law. The P stands for Property and property means ownership. There is no ownership here. Your argument that maybe there should be is a totally different question and a red herring as regards the outcome in this case. There is no IP here. If there was HM would have been able to stop the sale of the replicas.

One of us is right and one of us is wrong and it is easy to check. Watch Matt Blatt’s offerings and literature and see if they stop selling Eames replicas. When they don’t stop you will be forced to acknowledge that HM owned nothing, had no IP and could not defend against this, no matter what you think is right, just and good.

(I also disagree with you on what is right, just and good by the way but more of that later).

You use phrases which are just nonsense, and not just for the spelling and grammatical errors:

“but to IP which is totally different and is owned in perpetuity” – complete bollocks, there is no such thing as far as product design goes. The law governing this is Patent and RD end of story. There are no artists rights, copyright, trademark, licensing or anything else applicable. You just made this up coz you were not sure and thought you might get away with saying it. You failed.

“denying them of what is rightfully there’s under legally binding license agreements” I think you mean ” their’s” but that aside, this is still funny. You just made this up too didn’t you. Legally binding upon whom? Matt Blatt? If such a licensing arrangement still exists (and it matters not whether it ever existed) it is an arrangement between those parties only. Matt Blatt and Glicks and Milan Direct and all the other copyists neither know nor care what deals HM put together in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Nor should they; these designs are over and have been for years.

You confuse real design with interior decorating. Design, real PRODUCT design, thrives on diversity and development and is not frightened by the knowledge that designs have a life span and a legal expiry date. They last 16 years at most and that’s a good thing. I am personally delighted Edison did not rest on his laurels and his royalties after the phonograph or the world would be a poorer place.

Interior decorating follows nice comfortable formulae to create the same things Mrs Public saw in Home Beautiful and yes it needs more of the same and it needs Mrs Public to feel that she paid enough to impress her friends. Your major problem is that Mrs Public is not paying enough any more and what was once the exclusive preserve of the kisses on both cheeks brigade is now available to the great unwashed general public. This dispays not just ignorance but haughty snobbishness as well.

As regards my ” lack of respect for HM”; the heroes of interior decorating are not the heroes of real product design and despite coming up with a list of interiors suppliers I would be prepared to bet that you cannot name the most successful furniture designer in Australia, not as voted by the canape munching macchiato sipping interior decorators, but by units sold. i.e by providing the maximum utility to the marketplace and customers.

One other thing, to suggest that the “design industry” ( whatever the hell that is) would not know about your list of “designers” had it not been for Living Edge tells me you are an interiors newbie. All those companies were well known for many years before Living Edge ever existed and will be after they are buried. Arne Christiansen of Woodmark had run 3 businesses before LE was ever set up.

Any guesses on Australia most successful furniture designer?…. No I thought not; another jumped-up, know-nothing decorator defending the rights of some corporation to to tell him who the product designers are.

I do hope you are on the payroll of HM or LE, because if you are not then it is very sad that they got to own your mind space for nothing. Or perhaps they paid the right market price for what your opinion is worth.

15 Nov 11 at 6:13 AM • chardy supping sociopath

Let’s hear if for the frustrated mop designer… run the victory lap. Case closed…

Actually, your mixture of false conclusions and loyalty to the immutable verities of the law seem more designed to sooth your career path anxieties, than to address the ethical subtleties of creative rights.

Keep whackin’ them piñata men.
I hope it works.

22 Dec 11 at 11:17 PM • Anna

I find it odd that the “real” Eames’ furniture is so expensive in the first place, given their philosophy of design accessibility.

Granted, they also believed in quality, so we’re not talking super cheap here, but Herman Miller manufactured Eames’ designs are unreasonably expensive.

The popularity of Matt Blatt proves that the general public does appreciate good design (in furniture at least, still waiting for the majority of developers to start employing good architects) they just don’t have the money to buy the originals.

As a designer, I find this really quite heartening.

I also think designers have a right to be paid for their work though. Which presumably the Eames’ were, given that they sold the rights to their designs to Herman Miller.

An aside: the cheapness, and hence ubiquity, of the Matt Blatt Eames’ chairs is diluting the desirability of the design I think. I’m sick to death of Eiffel chairs.

26 Dec 11 at 1:27 PM • clarity

The rise and rise of furniture copies due to a lack of government regulation and enforcement (tariffs, IP legislation etc), means that “consumers” aren’t being educated about design. When buying imitation pieces, consumers are not made aware of the fundamental principles behind the pieces – they’re simply buying products because they look pretty, are cheap and appear in all the trendy/pretty homemaker magazines.

In terms of the median wage to product price ratio (re: Anna’s comment), these pieces are as affordable as when they were first produced – if you compare the median wage and price when they were initially produced, the current prices are less than that of their predecessors. The modern consumer has merely become used to buying cheap mass-produced goods, that don’t imbue any sense of time-honoured craft or human input, thanks to the rise and rise of stores such as IKEA which has skewed any sense of rational/warranted price benchmarks. And no, the Eames never sold the rights of their work to Herman Miller. They “licensed” the designs for production – the Eames Foundation, executed by descendants of the Ray and Charles still owns the rights to the works. No self-respecting designer would ever sell the rights to their designs!!!

Let’s be honest here, everyone is a loser when copies are bought – designers, design studios, “original” retailers and the consumer. When a copy is purchased (because a consumer cannot afford the original due to budgetary constraints), the opportunity is lost to discover, invest in, support and become educated about original design, whether it’s a local up-and-comer (sometimes within the same price bracket as a knock-off), established design house or vintage works. Whether we as a design community, waste time and opinions (Keeping it Replica) about whether or not it’s kosha to buy knock-offs or how IP relates to this issue, no-one is a winner except these repugnant sloths that perpetuate a form of creative prostitution.

09 Feb 12 at 1:21 PM • Joe

To protect the designers and innovators “YES”… to make original design pieces at a cost that makes it too exclusive that the designers and innovators can’t afford them themselves “NO”…

Sure there is an additional cost of doing business in Australia with it being more isolated from the major markets, however the reason replica products are so prevalent in the Australia market is because these extra costs are being used to charge disproportionate pricing for these products to what is charged worldwide.

The way to really get behind “original design product” and destroy the replica market in Australia is to get behind it and support it by offering it at pricing the rest of the world is paying (and even add a reasonable markup for the additional costs of doing business here).

Finally (to finish the rant) I by NO means support Replica business (completely the opposite) and like all design focused people I believe that it is a form of plagiarism that should be stopped. But lets look at the “cause” and “solution” rather than just complaining and hoping the courts will do something about it, making these guys put “FAKE” or “REPLICA” in front of everything they sell will not fix the problem. Being able to offer Design products at international comparable pricing will… looking at the fact a high-end Australian furniture distributor just invested (a reported) $50million on a new showroom in Singapore might help highlight that some of these big importers are making a “little” money in a supposedly tough economic climate (wonder way they are so against replicas???).

Keep up the fight against Replica furniture…

21 May 12 at 9:48 PM • JP

I love furniture, I love music and I only buy originals of both. There are similarities in both instances:

Designer = artist
Manufacturer = record label

In each case there is investment and return, with varying degrees of commercial success, but it seems that the music industry has got it right whereas it is perfectly okay to take an ‘old’ furniture design, make it cheaply and rest on the term replica – imagine being able to go to an area in iTunes where you could buy a Bob Dylan track that almost sounded like the original but cost 50 cents instead of $1.69? No thanks.

Something else to consider: Matt Blatt are not the only peddlers of knock-offs. They should also be named in the same vein from Milan Direct to the likes of Recollections. The reality is, they are copies and do nothing to contribute to the improvement or development of design; it is just pure opportunism.

To conclude, do not be fooled, Herman Miller and Matt Blatt are in it for profit. The reality is the latter does not invest in the continued development of design, nor upholding the interest of design legacy, but merely putting profit before interest in either of these areas which are paramount to the designer.

26 May 12 at 12:28 PM • Andre

I agree with Contrarion – on the most part, anyway. At what point can a company hold design copyright? Did the original timber supplier lay claim to the timber used in the first Eames chair? What about using leather? Does the upholsterer get a cut from each chair sold? I think not, as stated above, they are in it for the profit (which is OK by me) However, false/misleading advertising, such as Matt Blatt’s should be always severely dealt with which i would support.
Secondly, most designers enlist the help of many manufacturers/material suppliers, mostly free of charge, “tapping” their knowledge to put a drawing or concept into practice. Many designers “over rate” themselves and forget about the total collaborative effort by all parties, in getting a project “off the ground”. The problem with the analogy based on JP’s feedback, is that the money in music (legally bought) gets shared.
Nonetheless it is an interesting debate – and I wonder have any designers here considered if the bloke that invented Spag Bolognaise offered some sort of remuneration for using the recipe, or do they use a variation/imitation similar to the original?

17 Jul 12 at 7:47 PM • Bryce

Matt Blatt exists because the cost of the Herman Miller piece is too prohibitive.

Can you tell the difference between a Matt Blatt replica and a Herman Miller piece?

06 Mar 13 at 10:26 AM • whatever

another problem is that the design industry is just lost, scalping off designs that date back 50 to 80 years.

21 Nov 13 at 1:40 PM • Kimble

Thought you might all be interested in this article over at Retro Whirl about a video supposedly defending designer’s rights. The twist is that they talk about defending the rights of designers to make money off their furniture while showing the furniture of long dead designers. As Contrarian said, Herman Miller does make a lot of money from those who have left this world and who’s patents and design protection has long since expired. They really have no right to be the only ones doing so.

28 Feb 14 at 2:22 AM • Aimi

Spot on with this write – up, I genuinely feel this web page needs much more consideration. I “l l most likely be once again to read far more, thanks for that info.

02 Apr 15 at 8:22 PM • Sue Henson

Matt Blatt exists because of Adam Drexler’s dubious business practice. Adam feels he is above the law because he can pay for it. But in the form of every true coward, he hides away and does not talk, email or communicate with the people he chooses to do business with.
And despite the contracts he makes; with whim or a capricious change of mind, for no good reason, he changes direction knowing he can take anyone to the Federal Court of Australia if he so feels. Nice to have such a juicy bank account. Odd to think Adam should think this is a satisfying thing to do in life. Most wouldn’t.

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