Copycats Called 'Innovative'
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In a rare defense of notorious copycat practices by certain Chinese manufacturers, a senior official has stated that "innovative elements" of fake products should be protected and encouraged, instead of being squashed without consideration of their intellectual property value.
Yang Xueshan, vice minister of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), did not define what "innovative elements" exist among China's shanzhai (knockoff) products but stated that knockoffs belong in the debate over intellectual property rights.
Both the interests of intellectual property holders and of the end-consumers of these products should be considered when it comes to intellectual property, as both protection and use of property contribute to the progress of society, he said at a press conference Tuesday.
Yang added that it is not fair to label a knockoff product as piggybacking on existing intellectual property without careful assessment. He said fake-product makers should pay for using intellectual property created by others to avoid any infringement. Otherwise, he said, they should be encouraged, as they are also innovating.
However, his support was mitigated by a pledge that a firm crackdown on any IPR infringement would be properly conducted.
He made these remarks against the backdrop of the so-called shanzhai phenomenon that is sweeping across the country. From electronic products such as mobile phones and MP3 players to Web designs, look-alikes are gaining traction nationwide.
Although there may be great similarities in brand names and appearances, most such products are low-cost and of poor quality.
Ever since Apple released its iPhone 4, shanzhai models have been widely available across Chinese black markets. The cheapest copy of the iPhone 4 is sold for about 550 yuan (US$83).
The Adivon Sporting Goods Company, a cheap copying brand in Quanzhou, Fujian Province, is popular on the Internet for its high similarity with world-famous sporting brand Adidas in both trademark and products. Adivon's basketball shoes are sold at between 100 yuan ($15) and 250 yuan for each pair in China on taobao.com, an online auction and shopping website. In contrast, Adidas shoes retail at over 500 yuan.
Another website, shanzhaiji.com, is even dedicated exclusively to marketing shanzhai products ranging from mobile phones to high-definition TV sets, which are all priced cheaply.
In addition to products, many Chinese websites are designed to resemble more famous such sites, such as Goojie (Google), Baigou (Baidu) and Baihugu (Yahoo).
Zheng Jianmin, a professor of business at the University of International Business and Economics, told the Global Times that under the circumstances in China, knockoffs are an initial step toward innovation, as a big technological gap remains between China and developed countries.
"Knockoffs, which are more often better localized, just cater for the particular needs of low-income people, so there is sufficient room for them to survive and thrive," he said.