Monday, October 08, 2007

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Preferred Seating: Herman Miller offers Aerons to Residents... ultimatums to infringers


Eerily ergonomic, infinitely adjustable, incredibly expensive, the Aeron chair is a fetish item in the computer industry, so it's not surprising that Residents have made virtual versions of them in Second Life since the very beginning.  All that's changed, however, because Herman Miller, the company behind the Aeron, has just set up their own official store in SL, and is giving away chairs made with their official imprimatur.  For a limited time, Residents with knock-off Aerons can bring them to the Herman Miller outlet in Avalon (direct teleport at this link) and exchange them for an officially branded SL version, for free.  This exchange agreement also applies to Second Life knock-offs of designs by Charles and Ray Eames, and other masterpieces in the Herman Miller catalog. (The company otherwise sells their Second Life line for around L$300-600, i.e., a few dollars.)

Residents who have been creating and selling Herman Miller knock-offs up, however, are getting a less friendly offer from the company:

"[W]e've contacted those parties and informed them of our trade dress protections, copyrights and trademarks they are infringing, asking politely but firmly that they cease and desist," the firm's pokesman, appropriately named MarkSchurman HermanMiller, tells me. "Some have complied, others have countered with proposed partnerships, and some have yet to respond."


And with that announcement, the first public salvo has been fired: a real world corporation is loudly and actively asserting its real world intellectual property rights against Resident-made objects which allegedly infringes them.  Many wondered when this moment would come, and though DMCA notices have been quietly filed by companies through Linden Lab, this is the first move I'm aware of that's being done in conjunction with an official move into Second Life, and a marketing offer.  (The furniture swap is part of Herman Miller's "Get Real" campaign handled by Rivers Run Red, a metaverse studio currently advertising another client's services on this blog.) 

Other real world companies interested in staking out an SL claim of their own will surely watch what transpires next.  In a world where economies of scale are irrelevant, and a skilled Second Life builder working from her parents' basement can create furniture of equal visual quality to anything in New York's finest showrooms, is a corporation's official brand a strength, or a liability?

As it turns out, those answers many depend on how soon you're able to get your feet on the ground. 

Coke in Greenies' popular kitchen, with the company's OK

Not all real world corporations in Second Life take Herman Miller's aggressive approach, one should add.  Coca Cola, for example, allows Residents to incorporate their famous trademark into user-created content, just so long as it's not in an overtly violent or sexual context.  (Then again, Coke isn't selling any of its official products in SL.) 

The Herman Miller store, MarkSchurman tells me, is actually an outgrowth of a company R&D program that was already studying Second Life.

"The store was simply a natural extension of the effort," he says, "giving us a presence in-world so that we can actively participate within the community in a way that hopefully adds value and richness. Protecting our intellectual property was an outgrowth of that interest, as we began to look around and realized there were a number of sellers infringing on our designs and brand."  And though he doubts many Residents are making a fortune from Herman Miller knockoffs, they're still earning a profit off the legendary brand.  In any case, he adds, "[T]he strength of legal trademarks and copyrights is directly linked to the holder's rigorous defense of them--by ignoring infringement the holder weakens the value of the intellectual property and raises the likelihood others will choose to infringe."

MarkSchurman believes that the real appeal of their official product line in Second Life will be the same quality their real world analogues are known for.  "If our virtual designs are superior, as we think they are," he says, "and you want the accompanying 'label' that identifies them as Real Herman Miller, there shouldn't be any reason someone would want the knock-off in their inventory."

Ironically, the official Aerons, while beautifully detailed, are not as robustly designed as many Resident-made chairs on the market now.  I find that out after a Herman Miller salesman and I take a seat, and realize that our feet are dangling inches off the floor.


"Can I adjust this chair?"  I ask him. 

He says that's not possible at the moment.

I actually laugh out loud.  "An Aeron chair you can't adjust?"  That seems like an iPhone(tm) without a touch interface, or a Moleskin(tm) notebook made from flimsy cardboard. 

The Herman Miller salesman tells me they just opened their store, and will be making improvements.


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sean percival

Bravo for coke, boo for HM.

Their chairs look nice though.


He pretend to sell us a BAD product (and not only for the non-adjustable feature... how many prims it has?) and we have to buy because "we are the originals"?

Go to hell!!! If you don't know how to make good products for SL leave us alone in our world. Is HM so stingy to think about 10 $ he can lose?

I think he will lose our respect.

Peter David

Great to see companies using Second Life, I have checked the chairs and they are amazing quality.

The good thing, corporates can now get hold of the 'real thing' for their builds without the need to buy rip-off products. In doing so, they're infringing copyright, all very positive!

Lovely build too, Avalon is a great build.

Nice work HM!

Cyn Vandeverre

I think that HM is doing a good thing with the amnesty/exchange program.

It is rather funny that the chair can't be adjusted -- how tall is your Avatar, Hamlet? Those of us who use our RL heights in SL probably will look completely lost in one of them! I notice that the back of the chair comes up to mid-neck on you; the real chair is suppose to come to, er, where? The shoulder wing-bones? Looks like it's oversized rather significantly, which does not bespeak quality, no matter how great the other construction aspects are.

Jamma Newt

The chairs look really good once they rez, but it took me almost ten minutes to be able to see more than just blobby spheres. Granted, the scale of the chairs compared to avatars is off, but that should be the easiest part to fix.

However, they're pretty prim-heavy with the Aeron weighing in at a hefty 63 prims and the Mirra at 68 prims. What bothers me is that every single one of those prims was sculpted, even where a normal prim would have been just as good, such as with a cylinder or box shape. I realize this class of furniture design has always been prim-hungry, but perhaps a little trimming of detail and more judicious use of sculpted prims could help out.

I love the idea of them offering trade-ins for knock-offs, though! Got to protect your trademark to keep it. :-D

Haven Arai

While I can see their exchange program combating Aeron and Mirra chairs, which were originally designed by that company- the fact that they include furniture by Eames and Noguchi and others is eyebrow-raising at best.

HM is far from the only RL company that offers licensed REPRODUCTIONS of these pieces, and their claim that their *replicas* are the only "real" pieces is inaccurate and rather puzzling, both in game and IRL.

Anonymous Avatar

Someone just noted on Snapzilla that any avatar can walk up to the exchange vendors, click exchange, and get the chair *for nothing* - this is a major security flaw, and surprising that it was not caught prior to launch.

Benjamin Duranske

Anon above - that's not a security flaw, they're just doing it on the honor system. You're not supposed to take the free ones if you aren't deleting a knockoff. Not that they really care one way or they other, what they wanted was to make a splash, and they have. Personally, I think this is about the best approach a company can take. Beats just firing off cease-and-desist letters, though they are prepared to do that as well, it seems.

I'll link my name on this one to VB's earlier piece on TM infringement in SL. I hadn't even put Herman Miller in the hit list, though now that I think about it, I have seen a fair number of non-HM Aerons in my travels around SL.


What height are you in Second Life, I tried the Aeron chairs. My feet touch the ground, I then used the measuring thingy in my inventory (I didn't even know I had that!) only to find out my avatar is a giantess-lady-avatar at a whopping 6ft2"!

I feet actually touched the floor.

I asked an HM helper, they're going to be refining the design (something they've always intended to do)

Marianne McCann

Wait... wouldn't it have made sense to "refine your design" before you start selling and exchanging? I dun get dat.

Maxx Monde

I'm not surprised that this is occuring. I understand that by entering SL, they have a compelling reason to enforce their designs.

I must admit I love Aeron - I've been sitting on their chairs for over 10 years, at work and at home.

It just makes sense that they're proud of their work, and are willing to defend it. The swap campaign is interesting - they could've priced things to the sky, but no, they're using the honor system of all things.

That's pure class..

Kitty Lalonde

I was shopping at Maximum Minimum today and got this note card

Ceci n'est pas une pipe

The “Treachery of Images” by Belgian Surrealist René Magritte, famous for its inscription “Ceci n'est pas une pipe” - “this is not a pipe”, raises the question: What is REAL?

Margritte’s painting depicts the representation of a pipe but is it REAL? Like Margritte implies in his inscription, the painting is not a pipe, but rather an image of a pipe.
As Magritte himself commented: "Just try to stuff it with tobacco! If I were to have had written on my picture 'This is a pipe' I would have been lying.” (Source:

Attachmnet: 􀀁, René Magritte, 1928-29.

A few days ago Herman Miller followed in the footsteps of American Apparel, Giorgio Armani and other Real Life corporations seeking to enhance their Brand presence in virtual markets by opening a store in Second Life.
However, in what could be perceived as a smear campaign designed to maliciously inflict damage upon the reputation of avid devotees and proponents of their classic products, like myself and others, Herman Miller have decided that the "Get Real" campaign is the cleverest way to gain attention for a product which I’m sure many would agree does not need to be marketed in such an underhanded manner, if at all!

The campaign urges Second Life residents to exchange their 'knock-offs' for Herman Miller’s “real” sculpties of their collection. That's right, you can buy a Herman Miller classic from anywhere in Second Life and simply exchange it at the Herman Miller store for the REAL thing! So my dear clients I urge you to buy a model of a “pipe” from me, then exchange it for the “real” pipe you can actually smoke from Herman Miller!

But all jokes aside, I strongly urge all of you who know me and how passionate I am about creating beauty at all costs to go and see for yourselves.
If Herman Miller think that success in Second Life happens by ridiculing the very people who have raised their brand’s awareness whilst they were still playing on Orientation Island, then good luck to them!
Frankly I am surprised that a multinational company would commence their in-world presence by endorsing such a low-rate advertising campaign that does nothing but antagonise people who make this metaverse a fun place to be in! Clearly they have little or no understanding of the virtual communities that make Second Life such an exciting place to be in and that Second Lifer’s are not your average campers!

I certainly do not operate that way and I look forward to bringing you many more beautiful pieces that will delight you whilst in this crazy, wonderful Second Life!

So Herman Miller, put THAT in your pipe and smoke it!

Maximilian Milosz

For anyone who cares this is the HM notecard


If you’ve already acquired a knockoff Herman Miller product from another site within Second Life, you can replace it here for free and then take the imitator out of your inventory. We trust that only those who have knockoff products to exchange will use this service.

Exchanges are limited to one of each Herman Miller product being replaced. If you have more than one of a particular product to exchange, please click to leave us a message and we’ll get back to you.

You can tell if a virtual Herman Miller product is authentic if the seller’s avatar has Herman Miller as a surname—e.g., Real HermanMiller. A real virtual Herman Miller product in your inventory will include the name Real HermanMiller in its description.

The following products are available in the Get Real exchange program:
Eames aluminum group executive chair
Eames soft pad management chair
Aeron chair
Mirra chair
Noguchi table
Marshmallow sofa
Eames lounge chair and ottoman
Eames molded plywood chair

Kitty Lalonde

Oh and Marianne, the stuff IS priced to the sky, 800 lindens for a chair? Puhlease.

Basically the stuff you get exchanged is the freebie stuff that any old muppet can get by clicking on the boxes


These chairs are looks pretty....!

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