NEW YORK — Jamie Foxx’s date for the Oscars, his 11-year-old daughter, Corrine, strolled the red carpet toting a Kathrine Baumann-designed decorative handbag inspired by Foxx’s movie, “Ray.’’
For Baumann, the thrill of seeing her work at such high-profile events has been tempered by the realization that knockoffs will invariably follow.
Stealing her design concepts and selling the fakes for a fraction of the cost of an original — $795 to $2,950 at retail and far higher for a one-off — wasn’t something Baumann once thought possible because of the intricacy and detail of her products. But during a Henri Bendel trunk show in New York in 2001, a customer told her Manhattan retailers were peddling forgeries of her work. “It was hard for me to believe that someone could actually make a copy,” she recalled.
Baumann walked through several Manhattan stores to see for herself. What she found convinced her she had to take steps to protect her business.
She saw only one choice as a small business owner without the funds to hire lawyers and investigators. Baumann took the unusual step of searching for fakes herself, even traveling to China to get to a manufacturer.
The more than 500 pages of evidence Baumann has compiled, often through use of hidden video cameras, has aided in the arrest and conviction of one Manhattan retailer on charges of copyright infringement, and convinced a lawyer to take her cases on contingency. She estimated that she has gotten as many as 75 percent of the fakes off the streets, and there are no signs she’ll let up.
“I knew no one would take my case on contingency without proof, so I needed to prove that my intellectual property rights were being violated,” Baumann said. “As a result, I ended up doing the detective work myself.”
Baumann’s plight exemplifies the extremes to which a small business owner may have to go to protect their intellectual property rights, and get the attention of government enforcement officials.
A tenacious Midwestern work ethic has carried Baumann, an Ohio native, through a long and varied career after being the first runner-up in the 1970 Miss American Pageant. Over the next 15 years, she worked as an actress, appearing in TV shows such as “M*A*S*H” and “The Dukes of Hazzard.”
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