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Design thieves menace survival

Susan Andrews -- Home Textiles Today, January 27, 2003

Copyright infringement, counterfeiting, design piracy, intellectual property theft, knockoff — whatever you call it, it has the potential to snuff out important segments of the U.S. textiles industry, according to a panel of experts who participated in an industry roundtable at Showtime.

Although U.S. mills sometimes find themselves defending their copyrights from other domestic mills, the Showtime panel focused on imports from low-wage countries, such as China.

The panel included Jim Leonard, deputy assistant secretary for textiles, apparel and consumer goods industries, U.S. Department of Commerce; Hank Truslow Jr., president of Sunbury Mills; Barbara Kolsun, senior vp and general counsel for Kate Spade; and Richard Taffet, a New York attorney specializing in intellectual property and trade regulation.

Taffet, who has represented textiles companies on copyright and other issues, said that many American mills don't know that the U.S. International Trade Commission can provide relief from imported goods that infringe on their products. He pointed out the U.S. textiles industry produces tens of thousands of designs every year and spends millions of dollars copyrighting them and producing goods.

"There are laws to protect us, but they aren't strong enough," he said. "As mills, we have to take action because the magnitude of the problem is exploding."

According to Leonard, the Bush Administration is concerned about the loss of domestic textiles manufacturing and efforts are under way to help support the industry. Leonard spent more than 34 years at Burlington Inds., including 20 in international trade, before being named to his current post by President Bush in March 2002.

"The government can't solve this whole problem," Leonard said, "but it can bring pressure to bear."

Kolsun, whose career includes extensive work with WestPoint Stevens, believes the issue of design piracy "goes to the heart of democracy. We expect that if we design something, we are entitled to the fruits of that product. The remedy starts with education. We must be good citizens. There has to be integrity within the community, and you have to preach it.

"Copying is wrong, it's criminal, it hurts the economy and it hurts democracy."

Among other points addressed:

  • The industry should talk about the issue, share information and make a united stand against design piracy.

  • A "watch list" can be created that identifies importers and countries that are frequent offenders.

  • Furniture retailers contribute to the problem when they pressure manufacturers to hit very low price points.

  • The International Textile Market Association, the organizer of Showtime, considers design piracy a top priority and plans to have an enforcement program in place before the next show.

Carole Sloan, founding editor-in-chief of Home Textiles Today and senior editor of Furniture/Today, moderated the panel.

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