Mr. Johnson goes to China
I moved to Shanghai in 1998 to take the reins of the Bestfoods China operations. We had four separate joint ventures with state of the art factories producing Knorr soups, bouillons and sauces, Hellmann’s mayonnaise, and Skippy peanut butter. Our products were world-class and we quickly gained a nice foothold in the market.
However, the China market was still new to capitalism and lacked a robust system of commercial laws or enforcement capability. The society had zero motivation to protect intellectual property rights and any market leading brand worth its salt encountered major counterfeiting problems. Even relatively low-cost consumables were not immune and we routinely found fake Skippy, fake Knorr and fake Hellmann’s products on grocery store shelves across the country. We estimated we lost $6 million in sales in one year alone, as well as losing the incalculable value of brand quality perception by consumers who thought they were buying the real deal only to get a product made by counterfeiters in a filthy garage with no quality control or product safety whatsoever.
I quickly joined in with seven other multi-national companies like P&G, S.C. Johnson, and Johnson & Johnson to found the China Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition. Our goal was to cooperatively lobby/help the Chinese government enact and enforce IP laws and promulgate best practices among member companies to protect their brands. We evolved into the Quality Brands Protection Committee of CAEFI and I became the group’s first chairman. Two years later, David Taylor from P&G became our co-chairman (and is now P&G’s CEO and Chairman). Our group grew to 150 multi-national companies combating everything from fake American Tobacco Company cigarettes to fake Louis Vuitton handbags to fake Yamaha motorcycles to fake Zippo lighters.
Really Right Stuff – 2016
Fast-forward a couple of decades; now I’m back in the U.S. at the helm of Really Right Stuff, still battling intellectual property bandits.
Really Right Stuff is a small company with a powerful drive to innovate. Within a year from taking over the company, we applied for our first patent. Our new product development team accounts for over a quarter of total company manpower investment. We continually strive to live our fourth core value: “innovation beats imitation and it’s more satisfying.” We also believe in protecting our intellectual property. We recently were issued our 25th patent–not bad for a company our size. Every issued patent represents thousands of manpower hours and development expenses, not to mention the substantial cost of the patent filing process itself.
Unfortunately there are plenty who unscrupulously profit on the backs of the innovators by simply ripping off their designs. They know many do not file for patents on their inventions because the initial cost is high, the cost to enforce is likely to be higher and the potential gain may not offset the expense. Quite frankly, I’m not certain we’ll ever recuperate our patent investments, but we certainly are giving it our best shot.
We recently filed suit against a number of patent infringers with heartening results. One large online reseller agreed to drop 140 products that violated our patents–and that’s just the start. We fully intend to aggressively enforce our intellectual property rights. Put more bluntly, if you’re one of those thieves who profit by copying our patents, know this, we are not backing down.
To our incredible customers who loyally pay more to buy the best direct from the originator, we sincerely thank you. You are supporting true American made design and manufacturing with your pocketbook. Thank you for sacrificing to reward us when it would have been less painful to settle for cheap. You put food on the tables of 32 true blooded, honest working Californians who take immense pride in delivering the best products and services available anywhere on the planet. We commit to always “make every effort to meet or exceed [your] expectations for superior service and product performance” (RRS Value Five).
By Joe Johnson Sr.