On Feb. 10 in Frankfurt, Germany, Aktion Plagiarius announced the winners of the only prize in the design world that no one wants to win. The Plagiarius awards are given to the most egregious knockoffs of the year.
The prize was created some 30 years ago by Rido Busse, a German design professor who — on a visit to Frankfurt's spring fair in 1977 — spotted an exact imitation of an item he had designed for a Soehnle Waagen product line. The original, molded in high-quality ABS plastic, sold for 26 DM (roughly $16 by today’s rates), while the low-quality polypropylene imitation was priced at 24 DM (roughly $14.50) for a set of six.
The problem of product piracy has only increased since then. Not only are there more knockoffs on the market, they are harder to spot. "Technology has made counterfeiting products easier," says Christine Lacroix, managing director of Aktion Plagiarius. "In this year's competition we saw some products made in low-quality materials, but we also saw some that were almost as good quality as the original. It all depends on the producer's intent — to make the fake as good as possible or as cheap as possible."
While it used to be that knockoffs were mostly manufactured and sold in Southeast Asia, many fakes are now making it to the European market. And it's not just luxury goods like Louis Vuitton handbags and Cartier watches. This year's winners included everyday products such as the faux Dornbracht faucet made in Poland and a high-tech Mokik Bike made in China.
The European Commission estimates that 7 percent to 10 percent of products sold worldwide are fakes or plagiarisms. And it's no wonder: The profit margins in the counterfeiting business are fatter than those in smuggling or drugs, while the penalties are significantly lower.
But Aktion Plagiarius has made some headway in fighting the problem. A number of manufacturers have ceased production or licensed the product from the original manufacturer rather than receive the award. More importantly, the society has helped raise public and government awareness of the problem. This spring, the society will open a museum in Solingen (near Cologne), where it will display about 250 products and their knockoffs.
In the meantime, here's a look at this year's winners. The following slides feature the original product and, either to its right or below, the copy.