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Herman Miller fighting to protect design rights in Australia

Sunday 25 September 2011

In what may become a test case for intellectual property rights, the American design company Herman Miller is taking an Australian supplier of replica furniture to the Australian Federal Court in a bid to stop it from using the famous Eames name.
The Australian furniture supplier Matt Blatt, with shops in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, sells replica designer furniture , generally at less than half the price of the real thing by legendary American designers, the late husband-and-wife Charles and Ray Eames.
But the American manufacturer Herman Miller, the owner of the Eames trademark, has had enough and is hauling Matt Blatt to the Federal Court of Australia, claiming that the Australian company has infringed trademark, contravened the Trades Practices Act and Australian Consumer Law, and is ''passing off'' furniture products as authentic items by Herman Miller.
The defiant owner of the Matt Blatt stores, 58-year-old Adam Drexler, is standing by his right to sell replicas of Eames and other designer furniture and intends to challenge Herman Miller.
While some might accuse him of profiting from the creativity of others, Mr Drexler sees himself more as the Robin Hood of designer furniture.
''I believe that good design should not be something one should aspire to but be readily available to everyone - not just those in the top levels of income,'' Mr Drexler said.
The Matt Blatt website refers, rather, to ''replica Eames'' products - and the courts have never determined whether the use of a trademark in this way is an infringement of intellectual property. Herman Miller's Federal Court claim against Matt Blatt could become the test case for this most thorny and heated of issues. The case's first hearing is scheduled for October 27.

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