Thursday, October 28, 2004

FASHIONABLE FURNITURE KNOCKOFFS THREATENED: (From the NYT) Devotees of midcentury modernist furniture who want to furnish their homes with affordable versions of the period's signature pieces, like Mies van der Rohe's Barcelona chair, may soon be out of luck.

In a decision that could reduce the availability of replicas of classic modern furniture, the United States Patent and Trademark Office last week granted trademark protection to the furniture company Knoll for four famous designs in Mies van der Rohe's Barcelona collection — the chair and a stool, couch and table — as well as his flat-bar Brno chair.

Knoll, a Greenville, Pa., company, has been the licensed manufacturer of the Barcelona chair since 1948. A Knoll spokesman, David Bright, said the decision allowed the company to take action against retailers who sell knockoffs and "gives a green light to U.S. customs to stop unauthorized products from reaching this country."

Knoll, which makes 18 Mies reproductions, has held a trademark on the Barcelona name since 1968. (Knoll reproductions have Mies's signature stamped into the frame.) The new registration extends trademark protection to the actual design of the five products. Mr. Bright said the company filed for protection to stem inexpensive knockoffs. Trademark protection, Mr. Bright added, will help maintain the authenticity of the original 1929 design. He declined to provide sales figures for the Barcelona series but said it is a "perennial favorite." The decision could curb sales of copycat versions by retailers like Design Within Reach, whose customers appreciate the period's design masters but do not want to pay for authentic reproductions.

At the same time, the attempt to restrict replicas may encourage manufacturers to be inventive. "They will make enough changes to ensure the products are legal," said Lee Mindel, an architect at Shelton, Mindel & Associates in New York. "They will morph into other things, like watches on Canal Street."

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