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- 03 Aug 2011

Well...
As has been said at least a gazillion times...copyrights expire and designs become part of the public domain. You don't have to like it, but it's the way it is. So it is completely normal for a design of a 'certain age' to be available from more than one mfgr and that it is legal to be so. Even the renewal of rights ownership has its limitations, so the status of Mrs. Nelson' existence isn't likely to be relevant.

Second, the Modernica site says that they purchased the design, likely from Koch+Lowy vs. Nelson's estate, so it seems that Modernica now has the right to produce this and are now the proper owners of the design copyright. If K+L produced the lamp into the 1980's then the copyright's are likely still in force here, and public domain release hasn't happened yet.

I will NEVER understand what it is about the modern design community that makes them SO hostile to the idea of copyright limitations. It's like time should freeze and the same companies have to exist and make a particular design in perpetuity for it to be valid. Sorry, but that is just not realistic. If you are concerned with designs being 'real' then you should ONLY purchase vintage. Anything else would be, by definition, fake, as even with original mfgrs, production methods change and evolve.

What should matter to all of us is that a designer's work be respected within the lifetime of copyright ownership for the designer or possible heirs should the designer dies whilst rights are in force or renewable. But once a design passes to public domain we should support responsible, high quality mfgrs who continue the production.

- 03 Aug 2011

Are you
referring to the line in their ad copy that says "Modernica has bought back this iconic piece"?

"Bought" in that sentence is obviously just a typo for "brought". If they had purchased the rights to the design, they'd be as proud of and vocal about that as they are about their rights to the Bubble lamp or their ownership of the old fiberglass Eames shell presses... And in any case, they wouldn't be buying the rights "back" from anyone.

And by the way... You frequently mention copyright in these discussions, but I think you mean "patent". Since items with a utilitarian function generally cannot receive copyright protection, it's exceedingly rare for a lamp or chair design to be copyrighted; if a lamp or furniture design is protected at all, it's nearly always by a design patent.

- 03 Aug 2011

Maybe I should clarify.
Modernica (apparently) has an exclusive license from the Nelson estate to produce the Bubble lamps, but now they're making this lamp without a similar license. Doesn't it seem as though that act would jeopardize their relationship with the estate?

And if the Modernica Half-Nelson is successful, what's to prevent Koch & Lowy from re-releasing a licensed version which would displace Modernica's?

That's what mystifies me: Making the Half-Nelson just seems short-sighted and likely, in the long run, to hurt Modernica more than it helps.

Since I started this thread, though, I've noticed that in the area on their webste where I vaguely remember them saying something like "The bubble lamps are authentic re-editions, fully authorized by the Nelson estate", they now say only "Modernica is the official site for the George Nelson Bubble Lamp Collection".

So maybe they no longer have the exclusive distribution license. Or maybe they never did and I just assumed it? But if they weren't authorized, then why are the Modernica bubble lamps carried by all those "authentic only" retailers who won't carry any of Modernica's other products?

See why I'm mystified?

- 03 Aug 2011

Patent vs copyright
I'm pretty sure I'm not wrong on that usage. In this case we would be comparing the definition of a Design Patent versus a Copyright. Since many of these designs are considered 'works of art' and also are way past the expiry of a design patent(14yrs) then the only thing that could possibly be left in force is a copyright. A design patent protects the unique look of a design not it's production and is often obtained in duplicate with a copyright of a work's artistic nature for the additional and longer lasting legal protection. So, I maintain we're talking about copyrights here.

And I don't understand at all why you are mystified. Public Domain is in force if there was no copyright to purchase. I simply can't believe that Modernica, which is a highly visible company in the design community, would produce something with active rights ownership without proper permissions. That would indeed hurt them, and justifiably so. I don't think they're that stupid.

If the Bubble Lamps are being produced with a license from the Nelson Estate, that means that the copyrights to that design are still in play, which seems quite plausible given the design's popularity. If I was involved in the Nelson Estate that is one copyright I'd be sure got maintained. Likely that was not the case with the Half Nelson Lamp as it was a much lesser known design. Hence there was no need to make any particular licensing claims. K+L could very well have allowed their copyright to the design expire and that's why Modernica has begun production. In that case K+L could certainly begin producing the design again, as it is now in the Public Domain but they would no more be the official producer than Modernica would, since there is no longer may be any owner of the rights.

- 04 Aug 2011

Since we're neither of us lawyers...
...we'll have to agree to disagree. I am drawing on my years of working in the pharmaceutical and life sciences industry in which design, development, patenting and copyrighting of drugs and technology was and still is a very hot issue. I spent a lot of time immersed in the details of all that.

But I don't know all the ins and out of furniture design patenting and copyrighting. I believe I'm right, but I don't have the wherewithal to prove it, so I'll just let go of this discussion.

- 04 Aug 2011

Intellectual property
As a rule, copyrights apply to media (books, recordings, prints, etc.). Product designers protect their work with utility and design patents.

In certain cases, companies can protect their products beyond the limits of patents through "trade dress," which asserts that certain designs are iconic of the brand. This is how Knoll had decided to protect the Barcelona chair.

The heirs of the Herman Miller designers (Eames, Nelson, Noguchi, etc.) have chosen to go another direction: licensing the right to their names in association with certain products. This is why you'll often see "pavillion chair," "tribecca table," or "case study" furniture on knockoffs of iconic pieces.

- 04 Aug 2011

But getting back to the topic...
Olive, I have no problem with the idea that copyright and patent protection lasts for only a finite time. In fact, my personal opinion is that the current laws offer TOO MUCH protection to authors and inventors. I think we'd all benefit if the law shifted a little bit... By improving the situation with non-musical orphan works, for instance, or making it harder to receive patent protection for computer software.

And I also have no problem with the idea of Modernica making replicas. As I've said before, I think their fiberglass Eames shells look a lot nicer than HM's new polypropylene shells, their Bubble lamps seem to be higher quality than the vintage ones, and I have nothing but good things to say about my Modernica bed.

But I'm not talking about IP legalities or vintage-vs-reissue-vs-knockoff. I'm just trying to figure out why Modernica would risk antagonizing the Nelson estate and losing their Bubble lamp license.

Here's my thought process:

I expect that a large portion of Modernica's income derives from sales of the Bubble lamps, which are very profitable for them because of the monopoly position they enjoy thanks to the exclusive Bubble license. If the estate transfers that license to someone else because Modernica is now making unlicensed replicas of Nelson designs, wouldn't that make Modernica's cash-cow Bubble lamps much less valuable?

I don't know whether Modernica owns the Michigan factory that makes the lamps or or has a separate long-term exclusive license with them... But if they're no longer the "authentic" source, there's nothing about that factory's lamps that couldn't be duplicated by anyone else. The necessary materials and equipment are available, and the manufacturing process isn't a secret; with a look at Modernica's blog and a call to Vanhest, a new unlicensed manufacturer could start successfully competing in the Bubble lamp business against an unlicensed Modernica.

[more in the next message]

- 04 Aug 2011

(continued)
And what seems most odd to me is that if Modernica really IS risking its Bubble-lamp license, it's doing so for a relatively insignificant amount of money. I mean, I like my vintage Half-Nelson a LOT, but it's far from the perfect lamp design, and I can't imagine that Modernica is going to sell a huge number of their replicas.

Even if it becomes a runaway hit, though, any success Modernica has with the unlicensed Half-Nelson replica will be limited by the fact that the original manufacturer, Koch & Lowy, is still in business and can reintroduce their "authentic" Half-Nelson at any time -- it's not such a difficult design to manufacture -- thereby pushing Modernica's product out of the marketplace.

All I can imagine -- especially given the absence of a "licensed by the Nelson estate" notice on Modernica's Bubble-lamp web pages -- is that Modernica no longer has a license from the estate, so there's nothing to risk.

But if that's true, then what's going to happen to Modernica's relationships with the retailers who sell only licensed products? Those retailers sell the Bubble lamps, but they don't sell any of Modernica's unlicensed replicas of other designs. If the Bubbles are no longer licensed, will they be pulled from those retailers' catalogs?

I know this isn't too interesting for anyone else, but I just can't help being intrigued by Modernica and by their business decisions, which often seem bizarre to me.

Does anyone have any insight, or even more conjecture, that helps to explain any of this? Does Frank Novak read this forum?

- 04 Aug 2011

Back to the lamp for a...
Back to the lamp for a second.. I think it looks hideous if anyones interested.

- 16 Jul 2017

So I just had a look at the Modernica website for the first time in a few years.

I guess the Half-Nelson must have been the final straw; just over a year after its introduction, Herman Miller and the George Nelson Foundation filed separate lawsuits, and Modernica is now no longer making or selling either the Bubble lamps or their copy of the Half-Nelson. And the words "Eames" and "Nelson" (and "Herman Miller") no longer appear anywhere on their site.

For example, before the lawsuit:

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"Modernica is the only manufacturer currently that has the ability to produce the Case Study Fiberglass Shell Chairs with the production process that was intended with Charles and Ray Eames original design. Since 1999, Modernica has steadfastly produced the chairs as they were originally created, protecting this potentially lost art form and thus preserving the fiberglass chair legacy and craft.

"Modernica accomplishes this goal by using the original presses and the original preform machine that were used by Zenith Plastics for Charles Eames production of Herman Miller chairs. The preform machine is the only such machine in existence; it was designed by Sol Fingerhut in 1960. The preform machine was added to the production process in efforts to keep up with increasing sales."
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and after:

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"Easily one of the most important and recognizable designs of the twentieth century. The Fiberglass Shell Chairs were originally designed in 1948, as an entry in The Museum of Modern Art’s International Design Competition. At the time, no one could possibly have anticipated the massive success and longevity of this iconic design.

".... In 2000, Modernica revived this potentially lost art of high-pressure, molded fiberglass. Modernica creates each shell, by hand, one-by-one, in our Los Angeles factory—just as they had been designed, developed, and produced in Southern California in the 1950s. Modernica uses all of the original presses and specialized equipment obtained from Century Plastics. To ensure authenticity of production, the initial shell chair production was overseen by Sol Fingerhut and Irv Green, the same team employed over sixty years ago to develop the original technology."
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- 17 Jul 2017

The courts move slowly but they DO move!

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