HICKSVILLE, N.Y.—Cheap knock-offs are a problem that affects numerous companies, from household names like Nike and Louis Vitton to flooring companies like Pregis. No matter the size, these companies spend considerable time and money to protect their intellectual property against counterfeiters because trademarks and patents are often their lifeblood.
In the case of Pregis, its patented Absolute E-Z seam brand is gaining momentum in the flooring market as an underlayment option and, and as the product grows in importance for distributors, retailers and installers, the company wants to protect it against those who want to fool the market with imitations.
Last year Pregis began to print its tape release liner so customers can recognize the “Absolute” branding on the product as a way of educating everyone they have the real thing. “It also helps us quickly identify the knock-off products in the market,” said Tom Wetsch, vice president of global product marketing. “We have been running campaigns to educate the market as much as we can in an attempt to stop the infringers. In general, if the patents were not of substance we would not be pursuing the infringers, which is why we invest in protecting the novel ideas in the first place.”
Much of the infringing product is coming from Asia. According to Pregis, it starts out typically top loaded in a container of laminate flooring, essentially riding for free. “The laminate material is shipped as the primary item of purchase in the container but due to the weight of the laminate floor load in the container there is typically dead space above it to fill,” Wetsch said.
“Typically, this space is filled with the lightweight underlayment foam materials using substandard materials that are direct copies of what we produce. Most of this direction and orders are placed by the U.S. retail distributors that either do not have knowledge of the patents, or they do and feel they can ethically ignore them. This tends to build to where they are bringing in containers of just underlayment. We feel most of the larger retailers are aware of this because we have made an effort to educate them personally.” Wetsch said many of the smaller retailers and distributors are either ignoring the patents or feel they are small enough that Pregis will not pursue them. “Our biggest challenge are these distributors and retailers that support this approach, and what they essentially are doing is driving up product costs for everyone. We end up investing time and money to pursue them, which essentially ends up in the product cost.”
The Absolute E-Z seam brand continues to flourish for many reasons. Installers like the process, which speeds installations by reducing the customer’s labor cost. Alternative options require using tape and other methods to affix it to the floor. “We continue to build retail presence and pursue brand building along with ways to educate the end buyer around the performance attributes of the product,” Wetsch said. “We also are looking for ways to promote and educate retailers around the product and how to sell it at the retail level.”
Some new innovations Pregis is working on but not yet public are solutions such as how it pack- ages the product, including roll lengths, dispenser convenience, the configuration of the material in the package and ways to drive down product costs. “We’re also pursuing improved barrier performance materials to comply with some of the standards in the industry,” Wetsch said.
As much education and awareness that Pregis is trying to convey to distributors and retailers about its patented E-Z product, it cannot rid the entire industry from unethical practices. While it will be aggressive in enforcing its intellectual property, the company is asking customers to notify it about the issue so Pregis can deal with it directly. “[Our customers] can also put pressure on infringers to stop. You have to make a conscious decision to not support and/or buy a knock-off,” Wetsch said. “I am sure all of them would go to the same extent to protect their own brands. I also believe they would be extremely frustrated if a product did not meet their expectations only to find it was a substandard knock-off.”