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Member Profile – Thomas Crapper & Co

For over 150 years Thomas Crapper has been an incredible story combining plumbing, sanitary engineering and design into a brand that is still very relevant in the 21st century, the history of Thomas Crapper and the driving force behind its success as innovators is ubiquitous in the industry. It is clear why their sleek and quality designs are so iconic.

Thomas Crapper know how important it is to protect their Intellectual Property, which is why they proudly display the ACID logo on their homepage as a strong deterrent; the first step in protecting themselves from copyists and keeping their brand individual.

Patents have been a strong part of your IP story with nine patents, three of them for water closet improvements such as the floating ballcock which were improved by the S-bend plumbing trap in 1880 by inventing the U-bend. This demonstrates a forward-thinking and visionary strategy. Clearly you take your intellectual property very seriously. Have you ever been copied and if so, how you discover and deal with infringements?

Over the years our products, along with products from other high-end brands have been copied, indeed some lower priced competitors have built a business model based on copying higher end brands. Many of these issues occurred before our involvement with the brand so it’s difficult to comment, however since we took over the business, we have used design registration legislation, where possible and of course we’ve joined ACID.

Why do you think Thomas Crapper is such a household name and survives in such a competitive market some 150+ years after its inception?

The name itself is obviously memorable and we do say “You can’t say it without smiling”. Additionally, throughout our history we have remained committed to good design, high quality, UK manufacturing and excellent customer service. Uncompromising quality of products and service, combined with beautiful designs seem to be giving us continued relevance with clients.

What is your message about the copy culture that pervades some of the bathroom’s sector and those who ride rough shod over the law?

Products in the bathroom sector are in danger of becoming bland, especially in the volume end of the market. Suppliers are less likely to innovate when they are under constant price pressure from large retailers and merchant groups, this adds to the copy culture.

We are fortunate that we have retail partners who are committed to great design and are dedicated to creating a beautiful bathroom for their clients.

We have no time for those who ignore design rights, whether registered or unregistered. It is an easy and dare I say lazy route to base your new product development on the work of others.

Do you think that IP ethics, compliance, and respect for intellectual property should be the cornerstone of the industry, in terms of declared Corporate Social Responsibility? And if so, how could this sector achieve this?

I certainly think it should be an important part of any company’s Social Responsibility agenda, however one of the issues we have is that there isn’t really a coherent voice in the kitchen and bathroom industry representing the sector as a whole.

You invest in your people by helping them to develop skills, technology, and craftsmanship. How important do you think this is for the future of Thomas Crapper Ltd?

We believe this is vital for the future of the business and indeed have recently taken on an apprentice to work in our office and have arranged for our warehouse personnel to undertake ongoing training courses.

We now have an IP Act which will mean not only criminal provisions for intentional Registered Design infringement but also for individual directors. Do you believe that if this is extended to Unregistered Designs infringement, it will become more of a deterrent? Government thinks it would be chilling for innovation. We don’t agree, do you?

I agree that extending the Act to include Unregistered Designs would add to the deterrent and is unlikely to ‘chill’ innovation; after all how can it be innovation if it is based on someone else’s design?

Can you give us a steer on what you feel ACID’s achievements have been and what we could do in the future to raise further awareness about IP theft?

We like the relative simplicity of registering products on the ACID database and believe the logo displayed in our brochure and our web-site acts as a deterrent to copying. More public awareness of the campaigns you run and protection you offer would be helpful, but I also understand how difficult it is to achieve and expensive this can be.

As you know ACID is the main Policy and Government campaigning body for Design & IP reform. What are your 3 recommendations to Government to stem the tide of blatant design theft to support this sector and broader furniture sector?

My recommendations would be:

  • Make it simpler (and cheaper) to protect designs and brands through the courts, maybe through the introduction of a small claims court equivalent? There will be cases where a design is copied or someone is suspected of passing off and the desired outcome is just for them to stop, not necessarily requiring compensation for loss of profits etc. Could cases like this be dealt with through a new lower court?
  • Help to increase the awareness of ACID to let brands know there is help available to protect their IP.

Thomas Crapper & Co

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