Ubuntu Baba owner not happy

Has no plans to sue, but feels Woolworths owes pub­lic more in­for­ma­tion on baby car­rier saga

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - METRO - CHELSEA GEACH [email protected]

THE OWNER of Ubuntu Baba is not im­pressed with Woolworths’ pub­lic apol­ogy af­ter the cor­po­rate ad­mit­ted “strik­ing sim­i­lar­i­ties” to her baby car­rier de­sign.

Shan­non McLaugh­lin is push­ing Woolworths to pub­licly dis­close more in­for­ma­tion about the in­ci­dent.

A few days af­ter McLaugh­lin’s blog post went vi­ral de­scrib­ing how the re­tail gi­ant had al­legedly stolen her baby car­rier de­sign, Woolworths posted an apol­ogy on its Face­book page.

“A lot of peo­ple com­mented on that and were happy; I got con­grat­u­la­tions that I’d won,” McLaugh­lin said. “But I’m not happy and this is not fin­ished. There’s some in­for­ma­tion miss­ing.”

She was fur­ther in­censed when Woolworths sent her a link to a YouTube video about how much work they do sup­port­ing lo­cal en­trepreneurs.

McLaugh­lin spoke di­rectly to Woolworths chief ex­ec­u­tive Zyda Ry­lands yes­ter­day morn­ing and asked that Woolworths add some cru­cial in­for­ma­tion to their pub­lic apol­ogy – ex­actly what in­for­ma­tion, she could not yet dis­close.

“One of my main con­cerns is that the pub­lic is in­formed as to how this is be­ing re­solved and how Woolworths plans to make sure this never hap­pens again,” McLaugh­lin said, point­ing out that this is not the first time Woolworths had copied in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty. “The pub­lic needs some more an­swers.”

It has been re­ported that Ubuntu Baba had pa­tented the baby car­rier de­sign, but McLaugh­lin said that was not the case.

“I don’t have a patent for the prod­uct,” she said. “Cor­po­rates know where the weak­nesses are in SMEs and they know how to take ad­van­tage of that.”

Patent and trade­mark at­tor­ney Bas­ti­aan Koster said that legally, Ubuntu Baba had no pro­tec­tion against other par­ties copy­ing the de­sign.

“Peo­ple look­ing at social me­dia think copy­ing is wrong, but you can in fact do it,” Koster said. “The law is clear – you can copy as long as you don’t in­fringe on a patent or a reg­is­tered de­sign. If a patent or reg­is­tered de­sign is not in place, a third party can buy it, take it apart and copy it.”

McLaugh­lin said she plans to use this ex­pe­ri­ence to ed­u­cate other small busi­ness own­ers about the dan­gers of hav­ing their de­signs stolen, through writ­ing on her blog about in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty law.

“I don’t have any re­grets. I’m happy this hap­pened, be­cause Woolworths gets to learn a les­son, I learn a les­son, and other SMEs get to learn as well.”

The first steps in pro­tect­ing your­self, ac­cord­ing to Koster, is to use the law to for­malise your in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty.

“En­trepreneurs should look at ways to pro­tect new prod­ucts and in­ven­tions,” he said. “Patents and de­signs should be con­sid­ered. And if it is not pos­si­ble to ob­tain a patent or a de­sign very of­ten the best form of long-term pro­tec­tion is to ob­tain a reg­is­tered trade­mark.”

McLaugh­lin said the saga had taken a toll on her and her fam­ily.

“It’s been in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult. I’ve had a lot of anx­i­ety, I haven’t been able to sleep prop­erly, my 4-year-old child can see my at­ten­tion is else­where.”

How­ever, there has been a sil­ver lin­ing for her busi­ness.

“We’ve def­i­nitely had an in­crease in sales,” McLaugh­lin said. “We’ve had a mas­sive in­crease in in­quiries, and we’re strug­gling to get back to ev­ery­body. I think peo­ple want to sup­port lo­cal, so it’s def­i­nitely had a pos­i­tive twist.”

There’s a sil­ver lin­ing for some dis­ad­van­taged moth­ers too, as Woolworths has taken all cur­rent stock of the baby car­ri­ers off shelves, and plans to donate them to poor com­mu­ni­ties.

Ac­cord­ing to a Woolworths me­dia state­ment sent to the Week­end Argus: “Zyda tabled with Shan­non again our in­ten­tion to donate the cur­rent stock of the baby car­rier to un­der-re­sourced com­mu­ni­ties, af­ter the re­moval of the Woolworths brand­ing, which Shan­non was pleased to sup­port. There is cur­rently an ad­di­tional pro­posal un­der dis­cus­sion with Shan­non and we look for­ward to our con­tin­ued en­gage­ment with her.”

In her orig­i­nal blog post about the al­leged pla­gia­rism of her de­signs, McLaugh­lin said her busi­ness records showed that two Ubuntu Baba baby car­ri­ers were or­dered and de­liv­ered to Woolworths head of­fices ear­lier last year. Ini­tially, Woolworths claimed that em­ploy­ees or­dered these in their per­sonal ca­pac­ity.

“Those car­ri­ers were or­dered by two preg­nant em­ploy­ees who work in pet foods and fi­nan­cial ser­vices re­spec­tively,” Woolworths posted on its Face­book page.

Then, in the state­ment sent to the Week­end Argus yes­ter­day, Woolworths said the baby car­ri­ers were in fact or­dered to do de­sign re­search.

“Our sup­pli­ers bought a num­ber of baby car­ri­ers, in­clud­ing the Ubuntu Baba car­rier, from which to get in­spi­ra­tion and cre­ate our lat­est prod­uct,” the state­ment read.

“Our de­sign­ers also drew on and learned from pre­vi­ous it­er­a­tions of our own baby car­rier that we have been stock­ing since 2011.”

McLaugh­lin said she’d been con­tacted by about 15 at­tor­neys, of­fer­ing to do pro bono lit­i­ga­tion for her, but she is not con­sid­er­ing le­gal ac­tion.

“I dont think its go­ing to be nec­es­sary,” she said. “I feel like they’ll take it more se­ri­ously now.”

REUTERS

Shop­pers walk into a Woolworths. The re­tal­ier is in­volved in a fight with the owner of Ubunu Baba, Shan­non McLaugh­lin, in­set, who al­leges that Woolworths stole her baby car­rier de­sign. |

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