Safeguarding marketing and distribution: why the fittings manufacturer EKU, from Thurgau, places importance on comprehensive IP protection.
Fittings. We encounter them in the course of our daily lives. On doors, on window frames and on furniture. Without fittings, we would not be able to pull open drawers or tilt open windows. In Europe alone, over 200 million francs worth of fittings are sold annually.
Particularly for furniture manufactured in series, mass-produced fittings come from China. However, where the upper end of the market is concerned, the Europeans are still one step ahead. EKU AG, from the town of Sirnach in the canton of Thurgau, is the leading supplier of sliding door fittings such as found in high-quality home furnishings and kitchen installations.
Its secret for success is a high intrinsic added value. All punched and bent parts are manufactured on its premises in Sirnach. The fittings are likewise assembled in-house. “In this way, we can obtain the highest standards in terms of quality and innovative strength”, says CEO, Heinz Schmidhauser.
Year after year, EKU invests approximately three million francs towards the improvement of its product range, which at present includes just over 1000 items. And if an idea should meet the required level of innovation, the intellectual property is protected with patents, designs, and if appropriate, also with product-related trade marks.
“This comprehensive IP protection safeguards our marketing”, explains Schmidhauser. As quality fittings are sold to carpenters and construction firms via specialised dealers, legal quarrels about the products or their designations would create considerable disruption in distribution channels.
EKU spends around 100,000 francs annually on IP management. This includes the costs for applying for IP rights, market monitoring and legally enforcing claims in the most important European markets.
Setting up efficient IP protection beyond Europe would, of course, be desirable. Particularly in China, low-cost providers wrongly use the IP rights of third parties as a kind of production manual. Such suppliers deliver components to furniture manufacturers in China who subsequently export to Europe.
“An SME like ours quite simply does not have the money to prevent this from occurring at the source,” explains Schmidhauser. Hence, it is more cost-efficient to set up a so-called IP radar for furniture imports. Should someone from the company in Sirnach discovery a plagiarism, Schmidhauser’s patent attorney sends a warning letter. The importer then has two options: either he withdraws the product from the market, or in future, he places orders for the product with EKU. “Either way, we will have achieved our goal” says Heinz Schmidhauser.