The effect of copying designs in niche markets

When a company expends great effort and expense to create something new, especially something we personally benefit from, it’s nice to see them profit from it. Partly because the developer deserves it, and selfishly because we benefit from it. Innovation is expensive in both time and money. They build a thing, try it, change what doesn’t work, fix what broke, and try different things until a final product emerges. The process must stink for engine makers because I’ll bet some expensive parts get sacrificed.

Now if someone comes along and just duplicates the creation, besides possible legal implications, it just feels bad. How bad depends on the exactness of the copy. Like most of life, it’s rarely black and white but dead duplication sure seems like a dark shade of gray.

I recognize that almost everything in our sport is a copy of something that gets improved on, at least in its creators eyes. Even the new engines usually come from scooters or parts of scooters. But then they’re modified to fit our application, value is added, changes improve on the design and so on. Many paramotor frames are like that—improved copies of an existing make (improved in someone’s eyes). Sky Cruiser copied the Miniplane, Blackhawk copied the Sky Cruiser, Paramotor copied the La Mouette, HE copied the Pap, FlatTop copied the Walkerjet, etc. But each of those made some improvement on its predecessor, changes that its creator felt added value. That makes it feel less bad about being a copy.

If you were to write a book and use the PPG Bible for research, adding your own expression and emphasis and so on, it wouldn’t feel bad. If you copied the PPG Bible and started selling it, that would be another story. The same is true of Paramotors.

It wouldn’t feel so bad if some improvements were made. I’ve seen other Black Devil clones (or so it seems) but they have differences, minor though they may be. Other motors have been copied but in each case it seems something was added or improved, at least in the designers eyes.

So what effect does this have on the industry?

The worst effect is that it will tend to reduce innovation. Why dump money on a project if someone will just copy it without the drain of research? Service might suffer, too, if the providers are no longer able to make it worthwhile. Only if the copied machine came with equal or better service would that not be true. In the case of the Black Devil, it be would hard to beat the service provided by Alex Varv.

Don’t get me wrong, competition spurs development since builders must try to stay ahead. But it sure feels bad when the competition comes via exact duplication. If some value is added than the sport will be furthered and it won’t feel so bad. Lets hope that’s the way of the future.

What does the law say?

It’s doubtful there’s enough money in this sport to involve patent law. I’m not a lawyer but it seems that patents protect specific innovations, not something as generic as a two stroke motor, even an implementation of one. You might patent a new type of porting or piston or whatnot but otherwise patent law wouldn’t likely have much import. I’ll welcome correction on the subject.

I applaud the effort of manufacturers to bring the cost down through reasonable means. I’ve got nothing against Chinese built products—quality is up to the constructor and what parts they choose to use, not their nationality. Parts come from all over the world and quality respects no borders. Neither does mediocrity and we don’t have to look far to find either.

Ultimately, what happens will come down to consumers who will vote with their money. Some will ignore the issue and buy what’s cheapest while others step up and will pay for the original. Those who can afford it will hopefully support innovation. Those who can’t will just have to make their own decision.