Supply House Times Editor Jim Olsztynski sends his second report from ISH Frankfurt.

At ISH Frankfurt 2011 Hansgrohe demonstrated a showerhead mounted on a vertical platform that can be moved up and down with ease. (photo by Jim Olsztynski)

Hansgrohe Deputy Chairman Richard Grohe said that theft of intellectual property hurts the economy and causes job losses. (photo by Jim Olsztynski)

ISH 2011, the world’s largest plumbing-heating trade fair, is underway in Frankfurt, Germany. This is my sixth trip to the extravaganza, but the first one since 2003.

One of the interesting developments at this year’s event is relevant to people in the U.S. and everywhere else. It is a movement by show organizers Messe Frankfurt and various companies to tackle the problem of knockoffs that are plaguing manufacturers worldwide. Most of the knockoffs are coming from a certain large Asian nation that begins with the letter C and ends with A.

A company leading the charge is bathroom trendsetter Hansgrohe. Company officials noticed that at another large trade show in Europe a Chinese company displayed a blatant knockoff of Hansgrohe’s Focus S Single-Hole faucet. Hansgrohe charges that despite nearly identical looks, the Chinese version does not come close to matching its fabled German engineering and technologically advanced features, including a flow limiter, anti-lime scale function and an integrated hot water flow safety restriction.

“It is always the products that are particularly successful on the market, like the Focus S, that are ripped off and copied,” said Hansgrohe Deputy ChairmanRichard Grohe.“Theft of intellectual property hurts the economy and causes job losses.”

He told me that companies need to fight the problem by pursuing legal remedies “with a lot of energy and determination.” You’ll be able to read more about the subject in an extended interview with Richard Grohe (photo) that will appear in an upcoming edition ofSupply House Times.

 The Focus S knockoff was nominated for an award nobody wants. It’s called the “Plagiarius Prize,” awarded by European manufacturers and distributors of pirated products since 1977.

Messe Frankfurt for its part operated a booth at the show to distribute various literature about patent protection and other remedies.

More observations about the 2011 ISH show.

  • Why didn’t I think of that? As usual, Hansgrohe has one of the largest exhibits at the show. One of its products that drew a lot of oohs and aahs and hands-on tryouts from the crowd was a showerhead mounted on a vertical platform that can be moved up and down with ease with a light tug. (See adjacent photo.) It’s a brilliant touch with a simple concept that leads me to slap my head wondering why I didn’t think of it. I hate it when people steal my ideas even before I have a chance to conceive them.
  • Sign of the times. There was hardly any exhibitor advertising signage outside show grounds. During my previous visits nearby streets were festooned with banners, particularly from Europe’s big three boiler companies – Buderus, Vaillant and Viessmann. Taxi cabs were similarly decorated. This year only a few companies splashed their logos outside. Exhibitors I spoke with about this explained it simply as an economy move during what has been a sluggish global market.
  • Kohler makes an appearance. I was told it’s their second time exhibiting at ISH. Theirs is a modest display, however, operated in conjunction with Kohler’s European subsidiary, Rada. Though the company rules the U.S. bathroom roost, they are bit players across the Atlantic.
  • Viega’s ingenuity. Viega had two of the 33 products given the show’s Design Plus awards for ingenuity, called Trio E+ and Advantix Vario. I’m not sure if they are available in the U.S.
  • Whatever happened to the bold look of bathrooms? I’m not a fashion buff and don’t really care one way or the other, but I’m nonetheless puzzled by the almost complete disappearance of color in bathroom fixtures. With just a few exceptions, almost all of the thousands of toilets and tubs on display at ISH are white.
  • Here come the wall mounts. Speaking of bathroom trends, it came up in more than one conversation that wall-mounted toilets will become more and more common in the U.S., as they are in Europe. First, we need a construction recovery, however.
  • Magic mirror. Villeroy & Boch came out with a product called “Plus Sound.” It’s a bathroom mirror with built-in speakers that can play owners’ preferred music programmed into it by a smart phone. Cool.