Celebrating its golden jubilee anniversary in 2013, Italian furniture manufacturer Pedrali highlights the importance of local manufacturing in winning the war on replicas. David Granger Reports.
Italy’s design industry have long been plagued by cheap copies, but there is also a flourishing market for reproductions of high-end furniture for those that covet “Made in Italy” architectural style at low prices.
The country’s design industry, which includes makers of high quality tables, chairs, lamps and sofas, makes up about 2.6 percent of Italy’s gross domestic product. Highly export-oriented, it contributes to Italy’s international reputation for innovative style.
But making copies of famous designer chairs or lamps, has also become big business. Altagamma, an association of Italian designers, estimates some 1.7 billion euros ($2.32 billion) of such copies were sold last year in Italy, up sharply from 1.2 billion in 2010.
Italy could have cracked down years ago on the copiers via a 2001 European Union law that gives the design, prototypes and patents for furniture and home accessories the same copyright protection as other artistic works.
But the government delayed introducing the legislation because industry lobbies from furniture makers in Tuscany, for example, put pressure on it to postpone the EU law, Armando Branchini from Altagamma said.
Some of the Italian design industry associations – FederlegnoArredo, ADI and Indicam – took legal action against the Italian state for its 13-year postponement of the EU legislation. As a result, the Commission began its own investigation into the situation last October. Italy then adopted the law in April.
Several high-end furniture companies also tried over the years to take legal action against what they claimed were copies of their goods.
In January, a Milan judge convicted a well-known Milan store High Tech for selling reproductions of Le Corbusier chairs as well as Cassina brand sofas made by Poltrona Frau.
High Tech’s lawyer Marco Mergati said in response to Reuters’ request for comment on the case that the store was selling copies in the spirit of Le Corbusier’s philosophy of “making products that are beautiful and functional available to consumers at reasonable prices.”
With the introduction of the EU law in Italy, it will be illegal to copy the design of any branded piece of furniture for 70 years after the death of the designer. “The idea is that a certain work can be considered desirable because of its form and not only because of its function,” said Giovanni Casucci, an intellectual property lawyer and a member of the design unit of the government’s new anti-counterfeit agency, called Consiglio Nazionale Anticontraffazione, or Cnac.
Casucci said in the past many argued that furniture, or mass-produced pieces, could not be considered unique and worthy of copyright protection. But he said under the new law a piece of designer furniture will be subject to copyright in the same way as a work of art even if it is not a one-off.
Luisa Bocchietto, president of the Industrial Design Association, a lobby of designers and researchers, said the law would finally protect an important high-end niche where Italy is flourishing, even though the country’s wider economy is weak.
“Copying hurts those producing the originals and investing and spending money in experimenting to get to the right product,” she said.
THE PEDRALI CASE
Pedrali is a company lead by second-generation entrepreneurs. Established in 1963 by Mario Pedrali, the company is now run by his children Monica and Giuseppe.
“My father started as craftsman making metal chairs, tables and complements mainly for outdoor use,” says Monica Pedrali, now director of sales and marketing. “Each product comes from the idea of introducing something new, and now some 50 years later, we are producing metal, plastic, wooden and lighting design. In our opinion, only innovation allows us to be different from our competitors and avoid forgery. This is crucial to our enterprise.”
The brand’s slogan ‘The Italian Essence’ sums up perfectly the Pedrali manufacturing strategy. In spite of a substantial downturn in the European economic climate, Pedrali decided to go on producing in Italy, believing in the value of its in-house production, and the importance of quality manufacturing.
“Our work is based on the idea of producing all the items internally through qualitative and cost-effective production,” says Pedrali. “The collection of seating, tables, lighting complements in plastic and metal are produced in the factory in Bergamo, while the Udine branch is dedicated to the wooden furniture production.
Every day we have customers and architects visiting the company and seeing our production live. Though more costly than alternative options, we see this as an essential investment in continually re-affirming the value of our products.”