March 5, 2012

Tradeshow Espionage

So as you might know, just about every industry holds tradeshows at some point during the year. These gatherings of professionals in your specific industry is a time for you to get out there, see what others are doing, try to promote and sell your own product and generally schmooze with everyone.

There are some general unspoken and explicitly stated rules that go along with these events. One seems pretty obvious, but clearly, it is not always followed; Don't steal others ideas you see at these shows.

Day two of the three day show we had not one, but two, breaches of this rule.

First, a young man, clearly sent by his home offices in Japan, was taking every single piece of literature he could get his hands on. Not a huge issue, since we only put what is meant to be shared, but a bit of a tip off to watch him. The issue instead was the Nikon hanging around his neck. It was lunch time and I was the only one not out eating or talking to other customers. I look over just in time to see him snap a photo of the backside of one of our products. This product in specific we have already had people trying to steal ideas from in the form of bogus lawsuits and I know to be careful with it. The product is usually also, kept to the side, rather than out in public and only shown to those with supervision. This man, came in to the booth, picked it up, turned it over and took photos and then left in a hurry. I only saw him take one photo, but I was sure to catch his name on his badge on his way out of the booth. I mentioned it to the vice president who promptly hunted the man down. She asked to see his camera and he pretended to not speak English of course, but after making him flip through many many images of other products finally she found and made him delete, not one, but three images of our product! She took a picture of his badge just for good measure.

Second incident... A pair of men from a company in China are chatting while taking all the literature... again, my radar is going off. But I smile and let them watch the videos and look at the product on display. I'm not actively staring at them, and so only notice at the last minute as one takes a small bag of the product sitting on the table and puts it into his bag. I wasn't sure if they were actually samples or not but I demanded his card so I could at least track it and quickly memorized their faces and appearance. Again I mention it to the vice president, who after 20 minutes of searching the floor, finds them. They also say that they do not speak English and she gestures that she would like to look in their show bag of sway. Our product was 5lbs, and clearly labeled and right on top of their stack of stuff. She returns with the product in tow.

We reported both incidents to the booth of the company that runs the show every year. Both incidents are clearly prohibited and we were told the men would be removed from the show. Unfortunately, I saw both Chinese men in our booth the last day. I am also pretty sure the same photographer, sans camera, with a new and different name as well.

Guess it just goes to show... intellectual property is just as valuable as products. Products that might contain that new information, should be guarded. Keep your eyes peeled!