Showing posts with label Copyright/Trademark. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Copyright/Trademark. Show all posts

Friday, May 9, 2014

An Easy-to-Identify Knockoff Chanel Shirt in China

Knockoffs of well-known international clothing brands are a far more common sight in China than imitations of well-known international hotel brands. Just how common is not simple to pin down though. Depending on the degree and quality of the imitation, it can be challenging to identify knockoffs based purely on their appearance, especially if one is not familiar with the brands. For example, today in Hengyang, Hunan province, I saw someone wearing what appeared to be a Chanel shirt.

young woman in China wearing a possible knockoff Chanel shirt

After a quick check of Chanel's website, I now see that the shape of the two interlocked letters in the logo seems less circular than the interlocked letters in Chanel's standard logo, but I am still not sure whether the shirt is a knockoff or not. I would not be surprised if Chanel could provide a very quick answer.

In contrast, there are other shirts I feel confident labeling as knockoffs even without checking a website or consulting a fashion expert. For example, also today in Hengyang, I saw someone wearing a shirt with what is clearly only an imitation of Chanel's brand.

woman in China wearing a shirt with an imitation of Chanel's logo and the word 'FAKE'

As everyone knows, the interlocked letters in Chanel's logo don't have rounded ends. Sometimes it is so easy.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Brand Names Can Set Expectations Even for Known Imitators in China

In an article in The New York Times about the imitation of well-known international brand names in China's hotel industry (HT Helen Gao), Julie Weed shared a viewpoint from one international hotel:
“We do take steps to protect our brand, " said Sian Griffiths, director of communications for the Hong Kong Peninsula Hotel. “However, we also feel that our target customers are sufficiently discerning not to confuse the Peninsula-branded hotels with the copycats.”
But an example Weed shares shows why The Peninsula Hotels may still have reason for concern:
Li Quan, a pharmaceutical sales representative traveling on business this week in Shanghai, said he knew the Hengsheng Peninsula International Hotel was not part of the international Peninsula chain, but believed it would be an “upscale hotel because of the obvious name resemblance.”

He was disappointed to find “so-so facilities and worse-than-average service,” and said that some domestic hotels tried “to boost their value and brand awareness by sharing names with other reputable hotel chains so they can achieve a make-believe attachment to those hotels.”
Using similar logic as Li, people may also buy mobile phones, such as the iPncne I saw in Yinchuan, even if they are recognized as imitating a well-known international brand. Several years ago in a post about how local rates, fashion, and fakes are relevant to mobile phones in China I shared a relevant example from Shuolong, Guangxi:
Her dream phone was a Nokia. Not because of any concerns regarding fashion but because she believed it would be very reliable and rugged. However, a real Nokia phone was not a possibility given their relatively high price so she wanted to get a fake Nokia phone since it would be cheaper.

Unlike many other examples I've seen of purchasing fake products, her choice of a fake Nokia versus other relatively inexpensive options did not appear to be driven by how others around her would perceive the product. It was about her own internal expectations for what the product could provide to her based on its name - even though it would be a fake.
The hotel and mobile phone examples show if brand X's name is used in some way by an known imitator in China, people can have an expectation that an X-ish level of quality or type of experience will be delivered. If the imitator is then chosen, those expectations may positively color later perceptions, or they may draw attention to any shortcomings. That brand names can have such powerful carryover effects for known imitators is yet another sign of their value.

Surely this effect is not limited to only hotels and mobile phones. And it is one reason why customers' being able to distinguish genuine from imitation isn't necessarily enough for a company to avoid losing business to its imitators.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Starbucks Gangnam Style Arrives Before Starbucks in Zhanjiang

According to an outdoor promotional video at a new mall under construction, the first Starbucks in Zhanjiang, Guangdong province, will soon open. But already one can see signs of Starbucks here.

back of a t-shirt with a Gangnam Style Starbucks logo

Possibly inspired by a modified cup, this Gangnam Style Starbucks shirt isn't sold at Starbucks, even in China. However, like the girl in the photo, you can buy it on Taobao. After a quick search, the lowest price I saw is 9.9 RMB (about U.S. $1.60), though a more typical price seems to be around 20 RMB.

With disappointment in her voice, the girl told me she has never been to a Starbucks. She perked up when I told her about the soon-to-open store. I wonder if she knows her Starbucks drink might cost more than her shirt.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A Fake But Not So Fake Street in Wuxi, China

In a post on Beijing Cream titled "This Wuxi Street Is The Fakest In China", Bernd Chang shared a photo that has been making the rounds in China:

empty store with Sffcccks Coffee sign from

Chang wrote:
H&N, Zare, Hugo BGSS, SFFCCCKS Coffee: these are just some of the counterfeits of famous brands — not the same as “famous counterfeits”… or is it? — you can find on a shopping street in Wuxi, Jiangsu province...

Maybe it’s a homage.
I would like to add some additional context. First comes from this tweet by Chris Buckley, a reporter for The New York Times:
A key point mentioned by Buckley is that the stores are vacant. That's not to say the signs aren't interesting, but it's a different story than if these were signs for open stores and not possibly just placeholders.

The second piece of additional context comes from the new Kaifu Wanda Plaza I recently visited in Changsha. In the "pedestrian promenade" which surrounds the main building, I saw a number of similar signs imitating popular brands. For example:

Vacant store at Kaifu Wanda Plaza in Changsha with "Sterbkcus Coffee" sign

As in Wuxi, all of the signs were for vacant stores. I didn't see any similar examples there for a non-vacant store and the shopping center included a large number of what appeared to be genuine foreign brand stores.

Many examples of non-vacant stores imitating foreign brands can be found in China. I've mentioned two examples here and here specifically for Starbucks. So I question whether Wuxi should be awarded the "fakest street" award. If the signs were for open stores, then it would at least top anything I've come across in China. Otherwise, what I saw in Changsha indicates the street in Wuxi is not very unique.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Paul and Daul Frank for Sale

To get back into things after an unexpected "blogging holiday", I'll start with a simple post and share a few photos which include a famous monkey and touch on the variety of shopping venues and large number of imitation products in China.

At the previously featured Kaifu Wanda Plaza in Changsha, Hunan province, I noticed this Paul Frank store:

Paul Frank store at the Kaifu Wanda Plaza in Changsha, China

About a 10-15 minute walk away, I saw this outdoor temporary outlet near a construction area:

an outdoor Paul Frank sale in Changsha

Two salespeople claimed the items for sale were genuine Paul Frank.

And finally, I earlier saw what be called a sign of creativity for sale at a bus stop near a shopping district in Zhuhai, Guangdong province:

piece of cloth with the logo "Daul frank" for sale in Zhuhai, China

That very well could be a genuine Daul frank.

I'll refrain from making any deep points and simply say that none of the above struck me as unusual for China.

More later ...

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Photos That Nearly Made Here it in 2013

When I upload a photo to Picasa it usually means I plan to use it soon in a blog post. But sometimes things don't go as planned. So to start off 2014 here, I will share a mishmash of photos from 2013 that were uploaded but for one reason or another never made their way into a published post. In addition to any descriptions, I'll share links to earlier related posts--all except two from 2013. Together they provide reminders of a tiny bit of what was covered here during the previous year and a hint of some of what else I had hoped to share and write about.

So in chronological order...

2013 for me began celebrating in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. After Kuala Lumpur, I went to Penang, where I listened to a woman describe her challenges visiting her son in the US, and later Melaka, where not far from the Melaka River I saw this shop in a mall:

stall selling a variety of items in a mall in Melaka, Malasia

Some of the flip-flops (sandals) for sale caught my attention:

flip-flops with the logos for Facebook, Yahoo, Google, and YouTube

What do all of the brands on these flip-flops have in common? They are all global online services created and based in the US. I didn't see any Baidu, WeChat, or Tencent flip-flops...

Later in Melaka, I think not to far from where I met a young woman seeking forgiveness, I looked up and saw this:

blue sky with clouds in Melaka, Malaysia

For more about why my time in China has given me a deeper appreciation of blue skies with "normal" clouds, see the 2012 post "Skies and Clouds in China" with scenes from Macau.

After Malaysia, I headed to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where I documented many examples of people riding pedal-powered vehicles, motorbikes, and motorized-vehicles which were pulling or pushing something. However, there was one example, like one of a coffin being delivered on a motorbike, that I had hoped to share in its own post. I never got around to the post, so here is the photo:

young woman with many flowers riding a pedal-powered rickshaw in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Street vehicles weren't the only thing on my mind in Phnom Penh. For example, at one shop I noticed this screen for a cash register at a small convenience store:

computer screen showing calculations for price and change in US dollars and Cambodian Riel

In Cambodia, both US and Cambodian currency are regularly used, and transactions can include both. The above screen is presumably an attempt to make life easier and reduce the number of errors.

While in Cambodia I also went to the riverside town of Kampot. In the countryside I walked to Fish Isle, ate a mysterious sea creature, surprised a little girl by answering her phone call, and explored the area to the north by bike. I didn't share many scenes from central Kampot, but here's one at a large market:

man posing next to a van with its back door open to pack in more vegetables

After Cambodia, I went to Vietnam, Taiwan, and the US. No unused uploaded photos from those places, but there's one from my next stop: Seoul, South Korea:

MLB store in Seoul, South Korea

This was one of several MLB (Major League Baseball) stores I saw in Seoul. In the window the logo for the Los Angeles Dodgers can be seen--the same team some men were watching at Seoul's Namdaemun Market.

After returning to China, I had the opportunity to revisit Cheung Chau--one of Hong Kong's outlying islands. While there, I saw this monkey:

hanging orange toy monkey in Cheung Chau

I had considered posting the photo without any comment except a title something like "Orange Ennui in Cheung Chau".

Fortunately, ennui wasn't an issue for me on Cheung Chau. Nor was it during my visits to nearby Macau where I saw beer speeding through the streets on the peninsula and these three young women in Cotai:

three young women wearing racing clothes, helmets, and goggles in Macau

Almost 2 years ago I shared my experience taking a random bus ride in Zhuhai, Guangdong province. Several months ago I took another random bus ride in Zhuhai. Maybe someday I will share more of what I saw, but for now I will just say I was particularly surprised to hear, and then see, goats:

three black goats on and around a brick path in Zhuhai

Also while in Zhuhai, I shared some scenes from a late-night outdoor dining establishment. For a contrast, here's an outdoor dining scene at a pricier establishment:

outdoor dining scene at a cafe in Zhuhai

Usually I enjoy the local Chinese-style seafood in Zhuhai, but this is my favorite place for a smoked salmon sandwich.

Finally, more recently I shared a scene from a restaurant in Changsha--a city where I've seen a lot of change. This is the spicy chicken dish I ate for lunch at the restaurant:

spicy chicken dish, rich, and a pot of tea at a restaurant in Changsha, China

And that brings this unplanned set of photos to a close. Undoubtedly, more photos, experiences, and thoughts from previous years will appear here in the future--as will new ones.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Imitation, Creativity, and a Right-Hander's Dream in Chinese Mobile Phones

As I have mentioned many times before (most recently here), a broad variety of mobile phones are designed, made, and sold in China. During a recent visit to Zhuhai's Jida subdistrict, I took a closer look at a store selling phones not made by better known Chinese brands such as BBK, Oppo, Xiaomi, and Gionee. Although some of the phones imitate other brands, some include "micro-innovations" and some can be rather distinctive from phones commonly available in markets outside of China such as the U.S.

Below, I will share four examples of what I found. My intent is simply to stimulate some thought about the mobile phone domain in China.

an iPoone flip phone with a partial Apple logo and a small pink flip phone with a drawing of a young woman holding a heart

The iPoone above on the left obviously fits into the "inspired-by-Apple" category--a category in which I regularly spot new designs. The "Think Different" phone I saw in Guangzhou and the iPncne phone I saw in Ningxia also fit in this category.

The phone above on the right has no obvious Apple influence and is just one of the many small clamshell phones available with various images.

a Dlor flip phone with a poem and an image of two hands and two rings and a yellow JYING flip phone with a scene of butterflies lit up and a digital clock

The yellow phone on the above right offers a butterfly light show. The shopkeeper made sure I noticed the digital clock on the outside.

The "Dlor" phone on the above left is what most caught my eye that day, so I will provide a few more details about it. These words are above the image of the two hands:
I'm not left-hander
Numerous instances of the same image with almost exactly the same words can be found on a number of Chinese online sites. However, I was not able to pin down the original source.

two five-fingered hands hold a ring, another ring in front of the hands, and the poem "I'm not a left-hander 幸福在我的左边 可我........ 却不是个左撇子 抓不住你"

One reasonable translation of the Chinese is "Happiness is on my left, but I can't catch you since I'm not left-handed".

If you're now puzzled by the poem or wondering why hands with an extra finger were used (did you notice?), you're not alone. Any Chinese friends I have asked expressed some confusion, and examples of confusion can be found online (in Chinese) as well.

Yes, there are many questions to ask. And all of the above phones raise more general questions such as "What motivated the design?" and "Why would somebody purchase this phone?" The answers to these questions could guide the design of new phones, whether they look like the above phones or not, for people in China and in other markets as well. As I first suggested after seeing the Think Different phone in Guangzhou, even when there are imitations, such phones can be a potential source of valuable insight or inspiration for global mobile phone brands.

Finally, there is one question I will answer now. No, despite it fascinating me, I did not buy the Dlor phone. After all, it doesn't suit me since I'm a left-hander.

Monday, November 4, 2013

More on Inspired-by-Starbucks Stores in China

There are two things deserving further attention regarding the previous post in which I shared an example of a cafe in Zigong with a Chinese name that sounds very much like the Chinese name of Starbucks.

1. In a comment to the post, "Pete" wrote:
If you have to explain the joke...

This made me ponder which Chinese brands I'm familiar with. The the three I thought of were Tsingtao, Norinco, and Seagull. I wonder what the far more than 99% of Americans who aren't interested in the combination of beer, guns, and watches would think of.
I don't doubt Pete appreciates that some of this blog's readers can't read Chinese and are not representative of people in Zigong. So the first line in Pete's comment raises the issue of whether people in Zigong who might consider going to this cafe would appreciate "the joke". The short answer is: I don't know, especially since I am not familiar with the brand recognition for Starbucks in Zigong.

But I still consider it likely that the person who came up with the name is familiar with Starbucks. Again, it would be quite a coincidence otherwise. And in conversations I have had with owners of other stores with possible (or clear) examples of trademark infringement, I have found some might be motivated by reasons not necessarily dependent on the familiarity customers may have with a particular brand. Sometimes an imitation of a brand may be more representative of the owner's own likes or aspirations than of an attempt to deceive others to any degree.

The second part of Pete's comment raises the issue of Chinese brand recognition in the U.S. There were reports of a survey conducted by HD Trade Services indicating that 94% of Americans are not able to name a single Chinese band. The link to the original report, provided by a number of publications, does not currently work, and I cannot find the report elsewhere. So I will refrain from commenting on it.

I will just add that some Chinese companies are now more concerned about whether Chinese consumers think a brand is well-known abroad than whether the brand is actually well-known abroad. One example I have previously mentioned involved a company advertising in London primarily for the perception it provided in China. I will discuss a potential new example in a later post.

2. Some readers may be curious about the stores I saw that "would likely be of more interest to lawyers at Starbucks". So here is one I saw three year ago which quickly came to mind:

Sutarbucks Coffee in Yanji, Jilin province, China

Yes, despite the Korean writing, this Sutarbucks Coffee store is in China. Korean is common in the city were I found it--Yanji, Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, Jilin province--due to its large population of ethnic Koreans and its proximity to North Korea. Like in Zigong, a genuine Starbucks cannot be found in Yanji. The nearest one is about 5 hours away by car in Changchun. Again, I'm not positive this would count as trademark infringement, but I would be rather surprised if Starbucks wasn't an inspiration.

And Pete might be happy I don't think I need to explain why.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

A Zigong Cafe With a Familiar-Sounding Name

While scrolling through small preview images of photos from Zigong, Sichuan province, I became curious as to why I took a particular photo 2 years ago. About a second after opening it up I laughed and knew what had motivated me. Since it relates to a recent post, I will share it here:

新吧客 (Xinbake) coffee store in Zigong, Sichuan province

For those who don't see why this "drink bar" which sells coffee, milk tea, and fruit juice caught my attention, I'll provide an explanation.

The store featured in a recent post, Starbucks, has the Chinese name 星巴克, which in pinyin with tones is spelled "Xīngbākè". "Xing", which means "star", sounds somewhat similar to "sheeng" and "bake" sounds like "bah kuh" (or "bucks" to a lesser degree). The above store's name is 新吧客, which in pinyin with tones is spelled "Xīnbākè". So although the characters all differ, its name sounds very similar to the Chinese name for Starbucks. The only difference is the "ng" sound instead of "n". Especially given what the store sells and its green coloring, it would be striking if the similarity is a coincidence.

Although the store's name jumped out at me, I am not sure whether this could count as a case of trademark infringement. And I've seen other cafes in China which would likely be of more interest to lawyers at Starbucks due to their similar logos and English names.

Like with other possible changes in Zigong, I'm also not sure if this store is still there. All I know is Zigong currently remains without a genuine Starbucks. The nearest one is several hours away in Chengdu. So Xinbake might be the closest you can get to Starbucks in Zigong.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Facebook Ice Cream Store in Cambodia

Last year I shared my "discovery" of the Android Store in Zhuhai, China (see here). Even though in addition to Android phones it sold non-Android phones, including the iPhone, I saw it as a sign of Android's growth in China. It was also reminiscent of the numerous "fake" Apple stores I have seen across China (see here).

I haven't noticed any similar Android or Apple stores during my brief time in Cambodia, but at a shopping center in Phnom Penh I did notice a store that prominently made use of the Facebook brand. Since Facebook is an online service, it may not be obvious how one could use their brand for a store. The answer is simple: you sell ice cream.

Facebook Ice Cream store in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
The person holding the ice cream sure doesn't look like Mark Zuckerberg

Croatian designer Tomislav Zvonarić has already created a concept for a Facebook ice cream bar—Facecream (H/T Mashable). But I'm not aware of any Facebook Ice Cream stores other than the one I saw in Phnom Penh.

After stumbling upon the store, I felt compelled to go inside. A friendly ice cream server greeted me.

server at the Facebook Ice Cream store
I did not ask if she receives Facebook stocks as part of her compensation.

Excited to try some Facebook ice cream, I placed my order.

inside the Facebook Ice Cream store
Imagine the lights flickering between "Face" & "Ice" and "book" & "Cream" for a fuller experience.

No Facecream was available. Instead, they had a variety of common (for Cambodia) ice cream flavors, drinks, and some non-dessert food, including chicken wings and french fries. I chose the taro ice cream.

cup of taro ice cream with the writing "I choose the pink one cause I love pink!! Fashion Update"
Nothing like receiving a fashion update with your ice cream.

I'm not sure whether the ice cream had a Facebook flavor to it. I'll just say that the cookie sticks were my favorite part.

Facebook is available in the Khmer (Cambodian) language, but I was told the store does not have a Facebook page. That seems like a marketing blunder, although maybe they were concerned about receiving any attention from the folks at Facebook.

I have seen other signs of Facebook's presence in Cambodia (maybe more about that later). None of them were as striking as the Facebook Ice Cream store though. That's all for now, but I'll be sure to provide an update if I see any ice cream stores using the brands of Facebook's competitors.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Tech Shirts For Sale at the Kek Lok Temple in Malaysia

One can't-miss feature of the Kek Lok Temple in Penang, Malaysia, is the new numerous shops, whether those enclosing the steps to the temple's entrance...

shops in a covered pathway leading to Kek Lok Temple

... or those inside the temple complex.

shop in Kek Lok Si

Temple-related items were sold, but a variety of other goods could be found as well.

Penang magnets, bracelets, and other items for sale at a shop in Kek Lok Temple

cat statues for sale at a shop in Kek Lok Temple

T-shirts appeared to be one of the more popular items to sell. Some included messages that left me curious about the design process used to create them.

shirts saying "Fun Me!! If You Can" and "Boobies Make Me Smile!"

In that respect, they were similar to many I have seen in China, although they had a different flavor. However, a specific set of shirts stood out to me.

a variety of shirts including those with logos for Google, Facebook, YouTube, and Yahoo

a variety of shirts including some with logos for Google and Apple

I saw shirts with the Apple, Facebook, Google, YouTube, and Yahoo brands. Penang is an area with a great deal of Chinese influence, both historically and in its current culture. But in and around its most famous temple I didn't see a single shirt for a China-based technology brand such as Baidu, Sina Weibo, WeChat (Weixin), Xiaomi, Youku, or QQ. Especially since these shirts were sold in markets that target tourists, before commenting on what this might mean I would want to take a closer look at who purchases such shirts and whether these and similar shirts are sold elsewhere in Penang.

But at the very least these shirts are symbolic of the relative influence of American and Chinese technology brands in many regions outside of China--even where there are many Chinese people.

More on this topic later.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Mario Appears Again in Changsha

I have some stories to share from this weekend. But it's been a long day, so in this light post I will just share an unexpected follow-up to the previous post about Mario at Yunifang. About a 5 to 10 minute walk away from the Yunifang store I visited is a Sanfu clothing store where today yet again I saw what appeared to be the famous Mario character.

young woman having her photograph taken with a Mario mascot in Changsha, China

Why was he there? He (or she if referring to the person inside) didn't say, but he was busy handing out printed advertisements and being photographed with happy passersby.

Even the kids were excited.

young girl with mother standing behind her in Changsha, China

Although some of the youngest seemed not to care at all.

baby away from a Mario mascot in Changsha, China

And that's all I have to say about that.

More, including posts about smoking, college dorms, a fashion show at a spa, technology, etc., will appear later this week.

Monday, November 12, 2012

A New Google Phone in China

Google fans, are you seeking a way to better show your passion for Google? If so, then I may have seen the phone for you at a shop in Changsha, Hunan province.

Mobile phone with the Google logo on its back in Changsha, China

Of course, the Google phone seen above runs Android--in this case OS version 2.3.7.

Android-style homescreen on the Google phone

If you are not sold on the Android experience, though, when turning on the phone you can chose to have it simulate an iPhone-like interface instead (warning: some may now question whether you are a true Google fan).

iPhone style homescreen on the Google phone

The back of the phone's box provides more details about it, including the wide range of colors available (it also lists a slightly different OS version than what the phone itself reported).

back of Google phone box showing phone specs

The woman who showed me the phone was quick to say it was not made by Google. Curiously, the box did not indicate the real brand but did include the Google name in the upper-right corner.

front of Google phone box

However, booting up the phone identified the brand as Awang (A王).

Has Awang received approval from Google to use its name on the phone? I have not asked Google, but I see signs Awang has not followed some of Google's published trademark guidelines. So Google fans, maybe you might want to buy a Google wooden cricket set instead.

I don't plan to conduct an in-depth review of the phone, so just two more quick points:
  • Even if Google did not grant permission for their name to be used on this phone, they can find some solace in the fact a Chinese company presumably believed that using the Google name could benefit their sales in China.
  • I doubt the Google phone will be making an appearance at the "Android Store" I saw in Zhuhai, especially since all the phones being sold there were made by well-known brands. I'd say Awang has a long ways to go before reaching that stage.
More later about the other mobile phones I have seen for sale in Changsha and how they compare to what I have seen elsewhere in China (see here and here for earlier examples of mobile phones "borrowing" Apple's trademarks). And I will also soon share some thoughts about recent news relating to a more pressing concern for Google. Although Google might approve of the Chinese government blocking sales of this Awang phone, overall Google would be thrilled to see less, not more, blocking in China.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Mickey, Minnie, and Mao in Changsha

If there is an imitation Mickey Mouse in Changsha, China...

imitation Mickey Mouse in Changsha, China

Can I call this Minnie Mao?

imitation Minnie Mouse near a golden colored statue of Mao Zedong in Changsha, China

On another day I saw people wearing what appeared to be the same costumes participating in a promotion for something non-Disney elsewhere in Changsha but haven't seen the costumes for several weeks after that.

By the way, this, the previous, and the next post or two will have been previously scheduled to appear while I am asleep. After I wake up in the morning in China I plan to follow the U.S. election results. I have never done that before from Mao Zedong's home province, Hunan. I am not sure whether that or the large mice in Changsha would surprise Mao more.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Mitt Romney and Counterfeit Apple Stores in China

The most recent U.S. presidential debate touched on some China-related issues, and I would like to comment on at least one of them.

No, this post will not be about the single question from a Shanghainese female I know:
Binders of women. What does 'binders' mean here?
Nor will it be about the many creative answers she received from friends.

Instead, I want to focus on this statement by Mitt Romney (copied from a debate transcript here):
We can compete with anyone in the world as long as the playing field is level. China's been cheating over the years. One by holding down the value of their currency. Number two, by stealing our intellectual property; our designs, our patents, our technology. There's even an Apple store in China that's a counterfeit Apple store, selling counterfeit goods. They hack into our computers. We will have to have people play on a fair basis, that's number one.
When listening to the debate live, Romney's reference of the "counterfeit Apple store, selling counterfeit goods" struck me as peculiar. I had assumed he was talking about the widely-reported "fake Apple Store" in Kunming. But that situation has long since been resolved, and I am not aware of any evidence that the Apple products it sold were counterfeits. However, it would be easy for me to believe there exists at least one store somewhere in China that could be reasonably called a "counterfeit" Apple store and that sells counterfeit goods of some sort (even if they aren't Apple products but instead are accessories designed by other companies). Since it is not clear which exact store Romney is referencing and he does not specify which type of goods are being counterfeited, I would not consider Romney's Apple store claim to be necessarily untrue. But whether he was referencing the store in Kunming or another store in China that has somehow caught his attention, I am not convinced the example was relevant in regards to arguing that the playing field is not level in China.

As I have detailed before, what counts as a "fake" Apple store can be fuzzy. And since so many potential offenders can still be found, at least at the moment Apple may only be taking action against those that go to extremes in imitating a real Apple Store. Furthermore there exist many Apple-authorized retail stores in China that are not Apple Stores, and it is not illegal for unauthorized stores to resell genuine Apple merchandise in China (see previous two links for more about these topics and examples of both fake and authorized Apple stores in China). Although I have seen mobile phones for sale in China that appear to inappropriately use Apple's trademarks (see here and here for two of my favorite examples), I have never seen such phones for sale in what I think could reasonably be called a "counterfeit Apple store". Also, I am not aware of any evidence that many fake Apple stores are selling counterfeit products that look and function like genuine Apple products. Instead, most reports and my own experience suggest that the Apple products being sold at such stores are purchased from authorized Apple stores. The Apple Store in Hong Kong has been a particularly popular source due to differences in prices and availability of products, and it plays a role in China's extensive grey market (for other examples of grey market activities see here and here). See here for some examples of stores in Guangzhou who earlier this year openly stated that their iPhones come from Hong Kong (also includes many examples of stores in Hunan province and elsewhere in Guangzhou province). See here for a more recent example in a Reuters report from nearby Shenzhen.

So, although Apple certainly faces challenges in China, I don't think the "counterfeit stores" are effective for the point Romney was making. After all, those stores mostly appear to be selling genuine products purchased from Apple.

If Romney had his heart set on using a tech example to make his case, I think there would have been more suitable options. For example, an online service that is blocked by China's Great Firewall, such as Google's YouTube, could touch on the issue of fairness while also touching on another issue that can stir up American voters. Mentioning YouTube's situation could show Romney is concerned about the restrictions on free speech in China. It is also an example of where China's censorship leads to a playing field that is not level. After all, YouTube cannot expect to make much profit in China if it is blocked. China's Great Firewall is even helping Chinese companies get business from American companies (see here for one example related to YouTube). And if you think services such as YouTube are only blocked due to reasons of censorship, read here about a Chinese woman in Guizhou who thinks there are also economic reasons for Google's "problems" in China. Regardless of the reasons for the blocking, though, I think it is fair to assume that most American voters could be easily convinced (if they aren't already) that YouTube is not on a level playing field with its potential competitors in China.

However, some would largue that all is indeed fair in regards to YouTube and that Google just has to observe China's censorship laws. Well... if Romney is sensitive to such concerns, then he can mention another well known tech company. Microsoft could make a kadzillion* dollars if all the copies of its software in China were used under proper licenses and not pirated versions. The problem is so extreme that Microsoft has reportedly even had to make a formal request in China that several state-owned companies stop using pirated copies of Microsoft software (see here). And although there may be disagreements over the severity of the problem (at least in public statements), the Chinese government has openly stated it wishes to reduce software piracy. So even they appear to acknowledge (at least in their words) that there is a problem. Again, I think American voters would readily view Microsoft's situation as not fair. The only caveat that now comes to mind is any Chinese software company probably also faces issues with piracy in China. So I suppose one could say there is a level playing field in that regards. However, the problem has a much larger financial effect on American companies such as Microsoft, and no Chinese company faces a similar problem succeeding in the US.

So why did Romney mention Apple's situation instead of Google's or Microsoft's? I could speculate about reasons that relate to either Romney's interests (for example, he might think Apple is "sexier" to voters or he might have a very specific definition of "level playing field") or Google's and Microsoft's interests (for example, they may not consider it to be beneficial to resolving their China-related problems for them be publicly stated by a prominent U.S. politician) but... I think it is best to just say I really don't know.

Finally, I don't expect this critique to pose a significant setback for Romney. Although I was puzzled by his statement about a counterfeit Apple store and wanted to comment on it, American voters will likely be far more concerned about many other statements made during the debate.

Even those about binders.

*"Kadzillion" equals whatever amount Microsoft would make under such conditions.

UPDATE: Paul Mozur in the China Real Time Report writes that Jessica Angelson, the blogger who brought attention to the fake Apple Store in Kunming, "didn’t feel her find was being used properly" by Romney. Again, even though it was my first interpretation as well, at the moment I don't think it can be said that Romney's words definitely refer to the Kunming store. But even if they don't, the example would not seem to be highly relevant to his point. Maybe Romney will shed more light on this issue.

Disclosure: I previously worked as a user experience researcher at Microsoft China. All of the information and claims about Microsoft in this post are based solely on public sources (except for my newly-created word "kadzillion") and in no way represent "inside knowledge" on my part. The rampant pirating of Microsoft's products in China is well-known and easy to see.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Mr. & Mrs. Kidney Potatoe on a London Bus in China

I have no plans to write about the Olympics, but yesterday in China I did see something that made me think about London. At the Coco Park shopping center in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, I stumbled upon this section of a children's play area:

an England Train and a red double-decker bus ride for kids at a mall in Shenzhen, China

For a price, the small train ride would circle around and the bus ride would lightly bounce. The front of the bus listed locations in London, not unexpected given its red double-decker design and the nearby "England Train".

Seeing a London-ish scene in China added a little twist to my day. But what threw me for a loop were the images on the bus of what appear to be Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head, the toys that recently celebrated their 60th anniversary, labeled as "Kidney Potatoes" with the small print "Laugh With Amusement......" below.

Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head were designed in the U.S., so it seemed curious to me that their images would be used on a British-themed ride. Why not display an image of something more British? And why would Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head be incorrectly labeled as "Kidney Potatoes"?

Maybe someone sought an alternative name for Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head in the hope of avoiding a copyright/trademark problem. Maybe this is a promotion for a knock-off product being sold in Shenzhen. Maybe the designer believed that kidney potatoes were particularly British and then searched for potato images that would be appealing to children. Maybe the designer thought that Mr. Potato Head looked British. Maybe there was a Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head fad in London. I can think of many other possibilities as well. Some may seem more likely than others, but researching this could lead to surprising and unexpected answers.

At the risk of disappointing, I must say that I do not plan to make any investigations (nonetheless, if you have something to add I would be interested to hear about it). Instead, I will later touch on several design and research related issues raised by this example. For example, although it caught my attention, I doubt any of the kids playing there were concerned about the "Kidney Potatoes" label.

But I did hear some of them laughing in amusement.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Fate of the Android Store in Zhuhai, China

Update at end

More than four months have passed since I first posted about the "Android store" I stumbled upon after I took a random bus trip in Zhuhai, Guangdong province. One issue some people raised was whether its days were numbered due to possible actions from Google. But I assumed that the store, like many unauthorized Apple stores in China, would not face any immediate interference.

Last week I happened to be in Zhuhai, so I returned to its Nanping district to checkup on the now semi-famous store. At first glance, it did not appear much had changed:

Android store in Zhuhai, China
Still there

The inside of the store was also mostly the same as before. One difference was that there were no Apple computers for sale -- only iPads and iPhones were available (see here for earlier photos from inside the store). Another difference also caught my eye. The staff were wearing store shirts:

Employee wearing green store shirt with Android and Apple logos.
She was happy to have her photograph taken.

Back of store shirt.
Sorry, the shirts are not available for purchase.

The Android robot is displayed on the front of the shirt, Apple's logo is on the right sleeve, and Android, Windows Phone, Symbian, and iOS are on the back of the shirt. Given the store's sign, it seems fitting that Android is the most prominently featured brand, even in the shirt's color. It is worth nothing that what appears to be the name of the store on the shirt is the same as the Chinese words which appear underneath the Android logos on the store's main sign.

Although finding that the store still existed did not surprise me, there was something else I was less sure about. Would the store inspire others?

I found the answer at another store just down the street. Here it is as I saw it several months ago:

store with prominent signs for China Unicom and Nokia
One of the many stores in the area with a Nokia sign

But the store has since undergone a bit of a makeover:

Store with China Unicom and Android signs plus some pillars with Apple logos

The large Nokia sign on the outside of the store has been replaced with the Android robot and what is presumably the store's Chinese name (which is similar to the other store's Chinese name and also does not include the Chinese word for "android"). The Nokia sign on the inside of the store has been replaced with a Samsung sign. Another outside face of the store is now partly in the Apple style, but it curiously includes the Android logos on the middle column. However, this mix of Apple and Android may not be so surprising since this same store previously had an ad for the iPhone that included a singing Android robot.

I will refrain from any deep commentary. I simply wanted to share that not only does the original Android store remain, but it appears to have an imitator.

And now I wonder if more will soon appear.

UPDATE: A little over a year later, much had changed. See "The Fate of the Android Store in Zhuhai, China: Part II" for more.