South Florida furnishing company loses clients after, they say, competitors stole their designs

(WSVN) - A local home furnishing company said they created a beautiful dinner plate collection, but another company is now dishing up their design. The Nightteam’s Kevin Ozebek investigates.

At first glance, the two plates may seem similar, but Thomas Fuchs said the one he designed is better made.

Thomas Fuchs: “It has a nice lip, so you’re not spilling stuff.”

And to him, the other…

Thomas Fuchs: “It just feels cheap. Ours is a little bit more of a sophisticated ivory color, where this is white. Also, they took the one-third, two-third proportion and flopped it.”

For nearly 10 years, Thomas and his husband, Michou, have been running their company, Thomas Fuchs Creative. Sales didn’t soar until three years ago, when they designed these melamine plates.

They were featured in Architectural Digest and Vogue India. They were first sold at Barney’s New York in spring of 2017, and later at Neiman Marcus and the ultra ritzy Paris department store Le Bon Marché.

Michou Mahtani, Thomas Fuchs Creative: “To be accepted at Bon Marché was through the moon. I was jumping up and down.”

But then, this past Memorial Day, they say their sales suddenly slumped by a third. That’s when the summer 2019 Crate & Barrel catalog came out with a cover featuring melamine plates that look a lot like Thomas’ design.

Michou Mahtani: “We were getting calls from all our other buyers, from all the other stores carrying our product saying that we sold out. That we knocked ourselves off and gone cheap.”

A set of four of Thomas’ dinner plates cost $75. At Crate & Barrel, the plates are already on clearance selling for $2.97 a piece.

Thomas Fuchs: “You feel like somebody punched you in the gut.”

Michou Mahtani: “It’s a David and Goliath situation.”

Shortly after the catalog came out, Michou traveled to Germany to meet with Crate & Barrel’s parent company. He hoped a collaboration could happen, but the trip ended with no deal.

Crate & Barrel told 7 Investigates that it sells products from longtime, trusted vendors and that, “We would never intentionally work with a partner whose product infringes on another’s work. We heard from the Thomas Fuchs Creative team after our collection became available in-stores and online, and have since engaged in respectful and productive conversations with their team, unaware of the frustrations now expressed.”

Thomas isn’t as cordial.

Thomas Fuchs: “More power to them if they can sleep at night. Good for them. They probably sleep in a bigger, more comfortable bed.”

Mark Bowen is a Fort Lauderdale-based patent attorney.

Mark Bowen, patent attorney: “Well, it does look like a potential knock-off scenario to me.”

But he said there’s little legally this couple can do, since they don’t have any patent, trademark or copyright protection on the plates.

Mark Bowen: “It’s always much more difficult to try and protect a product once it has been publicly disclosed or on sale.”

So, Thomas said his recourse is sticking to what he does best, and that’s design.

Thomas Fuchs: “I shouldn’t say that out loud because someone may copy us, but we are doing a beautiful yellow and gray.”

He and Michou are coming out with new color combinations for the dinner plates to expand a collection that has put them on the map.

CONTACT 7INVESTIGATES:
305-627-CLUE
954-921-CLUE
clue@wsvn.com

Copyright 2019 Sunbeam Television Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.