Is Imitation The Highest Form Of Flattery?
Good design has the potential to change behaviours, disrupt established markets or create entirely new ones. When Cobalt started working with KeepCup 10 years ago, we could only dream that it would resonate as much as it has, and launch a whole new product category of barista-standard reusable cups.
However, with success comes others who are bound to take notice.
KeepCup certainly didn’t invent the concept of a reusable cup, but our design and KeepCup’s unwavering drive definitely made it ‘cool’ to bring your own reusable cup to a cafe.
Before Cobalt designed the KeepCup, the few reusable cups that existed looked more suited to a picnic than something you’d walk into work with. Once it was clear KeepCup had tapped an unmet need, it wasn’t long before similar products appeared on the market.
Last year, KeepCup called-out coffee giant Gloria Jean’s for copying.
Cobalt developed the original KeepCup Brew, the first ever reusable coffee cup with a commercial quality tempered glass body, natural cork band and overmoulded lid. Gloria Jean, instead of investing in their own design or innovation, took the questionable route of releasing a product that was a dead ringer for KeepCup’s.
A Fight for (Intellectual Property) Rights
KeepCup’s managing director Abigail Forsyth told Broadsheet, “The case boiled down to conduct which causes confusion in the minds of consumers, exploiting the reputation of KeepCup’s products and market presence to take sales. It’s a classic ‘piggybacking’ case.”
Fortunately on this occasion, justice prevailed and Gloria Jean’s removed their ‘KeepCopy’ from sale. But unfortunately, others have and will continue to follow in their footsteps.
In any market, competition is important- it prevents monopoly, and encourages competitors to provide the best product and value to the market. However, when competition involves blatant copying, there are no long-term winners.
Sure, consumers may be attracted by a lower price, but all races to the bottom eventually result in quality so poor, and innovation so thin that consumers are left dissatisfied.
To be clear, Cobalt supports competition including genuine benchmarking where the best products are analysed so they can be improved upon. And that’s the difference; good design demands real improvement and uniqueness, which is diametrically opposed to a cheap ‘rip-off’ approach.
Despite the boom in this new category, KeepCup is happy to share the market, as long as their competitors aren’t directly plagiarising their products. Back in 2012, KeepCup’s founder Abigail Forsyth told Dumbo Feather magazine, “what KeepCup is about is getting people to stop using disposable coffee cups, so it’s fantastic if anyone makes a product who can help with that.”