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Award winning furniture manufacturers with attitude

07 April, 2006

The scenario goes something like this: a major new casino goes out to tender for the manufacturing of a range of chairs. Brisbane-based Furniture Manufacturing Company of Australia (FMCA) is on the tender list and receives several photos of the preferred designs. One of the chairs they are asked to tender on - along with their competition, of course - is actually from their own range.

IP Australia

This is how the industry has worked. But Robert Falzon, managing director and founder of FMCA goes one further. Having recently protected a new range through the Designs Office of IP Australia, Falzon checks to see if any of the other chairs are currently protected by a design registration - a legal monopoly over the design for its owner.

Sure enough, one of the six chairs is design protected. Falzon contacts the casino project managers and states that he will not be tendering on the chair in question. This raises eyebrows, but his position is clear.

'The next thing that happened,' says Falzon, 'we received a letter from our competitors - the owners of the chair design - thanking us for our integrity and the respect we showed their proprietary rights. They went on to state their respect for us.'

This consolidated Falzon's growing conviction that his industry could do with a solid understanding of intellectual property rights. This in itself would achieve respect for design ownership and flow on to halting design exploitation - common in the large-scale furniture manufacturing arena.

'One of the only ways to effect change is to go out on a limb,' says Falzon, certainly not a new-comer to pioneering new directions.

In the last few years, FMCA has grown from small scale commissioned manufacturing of other people's designs, with four staff and $250,000 a year turnover, to a company with an international orientation which launches new ranges each year for their own catalogue, has 45 staff, overseas representation, and an expected turnover this financial year of around $5 million.

Their project list reads like a collection of every major development in Australia in recent years - from casinos, resorts, theatres, restaurants and hotels, to commercial offices, embassies, retail spaces and hospitals.

Their growth was showcased in their tenth year of business by winning the 1996 Telstra Queensland Small Business Awards.

For Falzon, growing sophistication and recognition brought with it an interest in securing as much protection as possible for their designs. Falzon's patent attorney started by registering the FMCA logo as a trade mark.

Next, they moved to protect BITE, the exciting, cutting edge range designed by Brisbane interior designer Kirsti Simpson. Now another dynamic new range, RENNI, is being taken through the registration process.

For roughly $1,500 in official and patent attorney fees, FMCA initiates a 16 year design monopoly. If they act within six months of the Australian application, they can also move to protect the designs overseas.

However, Falzon's patent attorney points out, 'We can not seek design registration once a design has been offered for sale or readied for mass production. We would still be eligible if FMCA announced a new design in a trade magazine, but not if they take orders for it. So to avoid these worries, we apply for registration as soon as the design is finalised, but not yet in industrial production.'

Falzon's commitment to intellectual property protection now also includes applications for registered trade marks to monopolise the names of each of the new ranges.

'Design registration, registered trade marks, copyright, this the future. We are a progressive business - we move forward in design and we see ourselves breaking ground in the industry,' says Falzon.

And they have the accolades to prove it.

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