The greatest form of flattery

Michael Howorth looks into the moral dilemma facing Captains and Crew when one firm offers a certain service or product, where the ideas were initially developed and brought to market by others at an earlier date

It was the collector, Charles Caleb Colton who is credited with first saying “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” The English cleric, well known for his eccentricities was, like me, a writer but he lived way back in the late 1780s and died in 1832. Back then there were no superyachts and I wonder what he might have made of the way good ideas in our industry are today being quickly mimicked and put out to market.

I make the point because it is not so very long ago that the New Zealand manufacturers of clever clips and fastenings had to fight an intellectual property dispute with a British firm hell bent on copying what is a brilliant idea. Fortunately for the Kiwi firm, they had right and the protection of very stringent patent law on their side and the matter was settled, rather sensibly, way before any case got further than in house shouting.

But what of the floating platform idea created by a former yacht crew husband and wife team. How can they, or anyone else come to that, protect what is nothing more than a concept that utilises a floating pontoon alongside another craft. The basic idea is centuries old and has been used to get people on and off ships from the water’s edge to a higher deck. What these guys have done is reinvent the idea and apply it to superyachting. They have invested hard graft and piles of cash to get the idea to float (yes, I know there’s a pun in there somewhere) and now others are following suit. Captains seeking to buy such a device are almost spoiled for choice when it comes to buying this sort of floating product and in one case the device offered by the couple’s competitors, has contracted the manufacturer with the very same factory the couple themselves first used to bring the idea to market.

The same can be said for companies marketing inflatable slides that are fixed to the side of a superyacht. Who came first? Who copied who? Which is the best? Which should a Captain buy? And is there a moral dilemma here? If you know one company has sweated themselves to death bringing a concept to market and you know the other has done nothing more than copy the idea who should you buy from? I am not sure I know the answer and through fear of getting letters from lawyers acting on behalf of clients I am studiously making sure I do not name companies or take sides.

What I do know is, that if a company selling tenders and toys suitable for use on board my superyacht came along to me with almost the very same name as a company I had previously used as a supplier, I might be, at best, confused. Reversing the order of the nouns in a company name is surely nothing if not deceitful?

Now when I worked for a marketing company, eons ago, long before I gained four gold bars on my epaulets, I do recall advising clients that piggyback marketing was a legitimate selling tool. But back then, my client was manufacturing a mass market product that was cheap to make and unit sales were in the billions in countries all over the world. Today, piggyback marketing has a different connotation and is considered good business. Back then it meant hitching a ride on the coat tails of a company that has done all the hard work of making a product desirable.

And that is my point here. Is it right that in a market place where there is at best four or five thousand potential customers one firm should capitalise on the hard work of others and reap all the benefits? So I can quite understand why others who have invested sweat equity and cash into an idea and then see it copied might be a little miffed!
Can you imagine how, for example, the publishers of a magazine might feel if someone came along and started an online site that employed some of the words used in their own magazine’s title and splashed it across the internet?

Maybe, and for all I know, someone already has… surely not?