BPI, TECHPACK SETTLE BOTTLE TIFF
Byline: Vicki M. Young / With contributions from Jennifer Weil, Paris, and Pete Born, New York
NEW YORK — Oops! Whoever thought a tempest could brew in a snowglobe?
At the 28th Annual FiFi Awards held June 6 at Lincoln Center, Techpack won the award in the “Technological Breakthrough of the Year” category for Fragile by Jean Paul Gaultier, which is produced and marketed by the Paris-based Beaute Prestige International. Techpack developed a delivery system mechanism to satisfy the engineering requirements of the Fragile packaging — a snowglobe full of fragrance.
The award, however, raised eyebrows in the fragrance industry, particularly in Paris. Creators and the suppliers — the ones that execute the ideas — have long debated the issue of ownership rights. The victor, of course, gets the right to claim credit for a creation and the glory of saying “thanks” on stage. The issue runs to the heart of an age-old question within the industry over how much public credit a supplier should receive for work done on a manufacturer’s project.
Thierry Mangin, chairman and chief executive of BPI, in a July 3 letter to The Fragrance Foundation, which produces the FiFi awards, sought clarification of the description of the winner. The clarification, jointly agreed to between BPI and Techpack, was a “condition for an amicable settlement of the infringement of our intellectual property rights,” he wrote in the letter.
The clarification, which the Fragrance Foundation put in its FiFi press release and other materials, reads: “Fragile, the new perfume of Jean Paul Gaultier, wins the technological breakthrough of the year award of the 28th FiFi awards. The bottle and packaging are creations of Jean Paul Gaultier and Beaute Prestige International. Numerous companies also participated to this project, and namely Techpack, which developed a mechanism of a delivery system in conformity with the technical constraints of this innovative packaging.”
Annette Green, president of the Fragrance Foundation, moved quickly to make peace. She had another award plaque made up, citing BPI, and she plans to present the award to the company.
Daniel Rachmanis, chairman of Techpack America Inc., also moved to soothe jangled nerves and cool tempers. He struck a conciliatory, even humble tone, while taking care not to diminish Techpack’s role.
“[BPI] is an incredibly successful beauty company and marketer,” Rachmanis said, adding that the company is also a valued client. “We are delighted and we are thrilled to share [the FiFi] with them.”
BPI had asked Techpack to solve a technical problem: how to engineer a pump that worked from below a reservoir of liquid, instead of from above, as is usually done, Rachmanis noted, adding that Techpack patented the resultant device.
In any event, the FiFi was granted for strictly technical merit, he pointed out. “It was all about technological innovation of the year,” Rachmanis continued. “It had nothing to do with packaging of the year or marketing of the year.”
Techpack had actually submitted two entries. The other was the plastic container it had engineered for Gucci Rush. While BPI itself was not up for any FiFi’s because Fragile had not been launched in the U.S. until this year, Gucci took home three FiFi’s, including best packaging.
Werner Hofmann, regional vice president of Cosmopolitan Cosmetics, the beauty arm of Wella, which holds the Gucci fragrance license, appeared unbothered by being involved in a Techpack submission. In fact, he seemed gracious in portraying product development as a collaboration between designer Tom Ford — the creator of the concept — international marketing director Ann Boutigny, the plant manager and a host of outside companies. “Our suppliers contribute to the execution of the design idea into something work Hofmann said, adding that credit should be given for efforts made.
Attorneys in the U.S. noted that ownership rights should have been squared away in the manufacturing agreement. That’s so that if the parties part ways, one of them can’t say it could still continue production for someone else. In addition, other documentation — patent registration or contract governing trade secrets — could help clarify who owns what.
These days, the issue of intellectual property rights, and its development under French law, is of critical importance to fragrance companies. In an unprecedented decision, a French commercial court ruled in September 1999 that a scent has the same intellectual property rights as a book or painting, and is protected under the same legal umbrella.
At issue were Mugler’s Angel fragrance and Molinard’s Nirmala, launched in 1992 and 1993, respectively. Mugler claimed that Nirmala’s juice copied Angel. While industry experts, including a perfumer and an electronic nose, were called in to compare the two, it was really the result of a blind survey of 1,100 women that most influenced the court, according to Mugler’s lawyer Jean-Jacques Le Pen at the time. “Angel was recognized as a work of art,” he said. Molinard was given until yearend 1999 to pull its scent. The company appealed late last year and is still awaiting a decision.
Legalities aside, nothing has stopped fragrance executives from putting in their two cents.
One U.S. based-perfumer said, “We’re in a kind of a philosophical debate. The Fifi award is [somewhat upsetting] since it seems to be the result of a deliberate and unilateral approach from Techpack to apply for a Fifi award. I probably would have approached BPI in this case and asked for some kind of clearance from BPI executives. I believe both BPI and Techpack should get full credit for the idea and its execution, respectively.”
Sources say that Techpack had given BPI prior notice, but Techpack would not confirm that assertion and the attorney for BPI, the only executive cleared to speak for attribution, could not be reached.
Bloomingdale’s in March rolled out the red carpet for Gaultier and his Fragile perfume. The New York-based retailer’s windows were filled with blown-up images of the innovative snowglobe bottle. Fragile signage appeared on pillars and escalators. And Gaultier fashions were prominently featured in the store.
According to industry sources, about 200 pieces were sold, totaling $13,500 for the day it was rolled out. U.S. distribution of Fragile, which was launched in Europe in October, will be limited to 110 doors.
The issue begs the question whether suppliers should get some recognition for their contribution, even though manufacturers say the execution is under their complete chain of command.
A Paris-based package designer said, “The only thing the packaging designer has is paternity over a creation, not ownership, since it is transferred over to the client. To us, the client is always the owner. I understand BPI’s position.”
The criteria for the Technological Breakthrough award for “cutting edge technological components” include fragrance creation, fragrance production, delivery systems and methods of fragrance ingredient extraction. The concept “must be original, have been created in 1999 and have the potential to move the industry as a whole.”
And how is The Fragrance Foundation responding? It has adopted the clarification agreed to between BPI and Techpack in Magnin’s July 3 letter, while still listing Techpack as the award’s winner.
And Green has grown a bit wiser as a result of the fracas. “In the future,” she said, “we will have to look at how to deal with any supplier-submitted entry with a client’s name on it.”