Dan Harris just published advice to exhibitors that showcase their own new product designs. In his words:
It should go without saying that you should not reveal anything more at a trade fair than you would otherwise, and you should have an agreement in place (an NDA or an NNN) before revealing any trade secret.
This is good advice, but not always sufficient. I think this is a case where non-legal strategies are far, far more effective.
Many people walk trade shows with fake name cards. And, even if they identify themselves correctly, they can easily use another company (their supplier, their brother…) to circumvent the agreement. So having them sign any kind of confidentiality agreement on the spot, without checking them up, is a weak strategy.
Here are the strategies that two friends who have sensitive IP use on a regular basis:
- One exhibits on a small booth at the Canton fair, and shows only his latest developments in silicon kitchenware. When people stop and show interest, my friend takes their name card, asks a few questions, and says “we’ll be in touch” (he takes the time to check them up before sending them photos, prices, and so on). And he makes sure no photo is taken on the spot. Two people can easily monitor a 9 sq.m. booth.
- The other one exhibits on the toy fair in HK. They have a big booth, with a third of the space open to the public and the rest as a private showroom. Only companies they trust are allowed in the showroom where the really unique designs are displayed.
Dan also provides very good advice for stopping companies that exhibit your product designs on a trade show. In his words:
The best way to do that is to gather up as much information as you can about the infringer. If at all possible, try to secure the following:
- The name and address of the company making the product. Get a business card. And if you can, get a copy of their business license. If possible, get the names of those working at the stand. Get as much of this information in Chinese as you can.
- Take down the stand number.
- Take photographs. Liberally. Make sure some of the photographs make clear where they were taken and, if at all possible, when.
Then consider going to the company that is putting on the trade fair and requesting that they immediately shut down the offending stand. If you are going to succeed at this, it would be best if you bring along someone whom you trust who speaks Chinese. It is also critical that you have proof that infringing/counterfeiting is taking place. This means that ideally you should provide proof of your own IP filings in China. Then consider whether you should report the offending party to the Chinese authorities or pursue litigation.
I totally agree. And I tried to provide a bit more advice on this:
When entering the trade show, don’t hesitate to look for a manager and ask for the phone number to call in case you find an infringer that copied your product design. Trade show organizers are never happy to sack one of their customers (the infringing exhibitor), but they will probably be more concerned with their reputation.
If you want to make sure the organizer acts quickly, take the following step in advance. Contact the trade show organization and ask for the price & conditions to get a booth. You will certainly find a few clauses about IP rights. Bring it with you and use it as a basis for discussions. The exhibitor has necessarily signed/stamped it!
Anybody has other tips?