The Legality of Knockoffs

Hey all!

The other day, I was sitting in class and instead of listening to my teacher's explanation regarding the physics problem on the board, I found myself pondering on the legality of cosmetic knockoffs. As a consequence, I have accumulated a couple of questions regarding knockoffs such as:
  • Is distributing the formula of a knockoff illegal? (Assuming that you only copied the function and not the ingredient itself).
  • What is considered a "knockoff" by law?
  • Have brands ever been sued for selling a knockoff?
For all those who may be wondering, I am not planning on selling a knockoff product (that would be pretty sketchy) but I am planning on knocking off some products to alleviate my boredom.

Secondary question: About a year ago, I read an article on making knockoffs and it suggested finding the percentage of water in a formula by cooking a sample of the product to evaporate the water. Is this a viable technique?

I look forward to hearing from professionals and perhaps seeing some discussion on the matter.

Thanks,
Nathaniel

Comments

  • PerryPerry Administrator, Professional Chemist
    1.  Is distributing illegal?  It's perfectly fine to copy the function of a formulation. You can't use someone's trademarked name or violate their patent but otherwise there is nothing to stop a "knockoff."  In fact, Suave shampoo brags that it is a knockoff of professional shampoo brands.

    2.  Knockoff is not defined by the law. Specific formulas can be patented which means you can't violate the patent. And brand names can be trademarked which means you can't copy someone's name or artwork.  Store brands (private label) from Kroger or Walgreens unabashedly knockoff more mainstream brands.

    3.  Yes, people have been sued for selling knockoffs. If the companies are violating the laws mentioned above they might lose. If they aren't, they'll probably win.

    4.  Finding water percentage - Yes, weighing a sample then drying it (evaporating off the water) is a good way to estimate the water content in a formula. It's not perfect as there are other things that could evaporate off with the water or some of the water might be bound up by other molecules, but as a rough estimation, that technique works.
  • Perry really covered it all! Yes in industry at a contract manufacturer we are constantly asked to 'reverse engineer' other brand's products. It can be a very close match if you use techniques like loss on drying, compare physical characteristics, etc. Usually though people take a cheaper alternative
  • Thanks @Perry and @EVchem for your replies. That answers every question I had perfectly!
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