Chinese knock-offs

Something interesting happened the other day at my company. One of the top guys in the company brought and showed us an imitation of our product, made in China, very similar but not intended to be mistaken for ours, just an imitation. But it was amazing how similar it was, right down to the shape and colors. And here’s the kicker, our product (made in the US, by the way) sells for around $100, the guy said the Chinese knock-off costs around $3.25!!! Has this happened to anyone else?

Cap’n

I am not trying to be one of those people who sends a brainless reply, but living in Hong kong I have to say:

Is there anyone this has not happened to?

What’s up with the Chinese?! One organizer of one of the huge U.S. design shows said that on opening day, the Chinese show up with cameras and go, “click, click,” and before you know it, you see your designs at WalMart and you haven’t earned a dime.

Is it something in the water? What happened to ethics? Or even just pride.

In the last 5 years alone, I’ve seen an incredible speed to market and technical expertise in copying products. Just look at the knock-off watches you can get on the street in China. You can still get the cheapy knock-off Tags and Rolexes you could always get, but spend $100-$150, and you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference. Right down to the quality wrist bands and movements.

China has been a manufacturing country for a long time, and as OEM manufacturers they are VERY good at following documentation (or samples) to make products. You give them a watch with a scratch on the lens to make and you get 100,000 watches with scratches on the lens.

In the last 10 years they have woken up and realized that while it’s easy to copy products, there isn’t much money to be made because EVERYONE is copying products. There is fierce competition in the knock-off business. I’ve seem the price wars on knock-off DVDs in China. They use to be US$2 each on the streets. Now you can negotiate about US$0.90 a disc. That’s barely the cost of the DVD-R!!! And the packaging is really good now.

Here is my prediction:

  • As more Chinese companies decide to innovate they will pressure the Chinese government to enforce the intellectual property laws.
  • The knock-off people will need to go underground. The hassle and low profits start diminishing the number of participants (but not all of them).


    The knock-offs will never stop completely, but as the innovation playing field becomes more level and more design comes out of China I think the Chinese will develop more respect for patents and trademarks to protect their own designs!!

The Japanese pioneered the knock off - albeit quality knock offs - they would come to the US, take the tours at factories, and take pictures of everything and copy the techniques - also read an article about how Japanese culture considers originality a waste of time - why reinvent the wheel when you can advance it through greater reliability and better features.

The Chinese government is aware of how the knock off market is the bottom of the barrel, and have publicly announced their goals of producing up to 50 “global champion” corporations to compete with the likes of those in the US, Japan, Korea, and Europe (think Sony, Procter and Gamble, GE, etc.).

call me crazy but I actually feel honored to see my work being knocked off in China. Just shows how your work has influenced the market…Id rather focus on whats the next best thing rather than looking back and worry about people who copy you…

What so few dare imagine is that, while the knock-off’s country of origin may be China, many profiting from intelectual property theft are just as likely to be American, Canadian, or European. This nonsense about badly dressed Chinese not speaking a word of English, clicking away at trade shows and in stores is hogwash. Who do these people really work for?

Selecting and evaluating what to copy is easier from within the target market. Enough Western firms have a hand in this and are just contracting the dirty work to anonymous Chinese sweatshops making for perfect scapegoats with the IP theft reputation China has.

Honesty has no particular citizenship. Nor does hypocrisy.

What so few dare imagine is that, while the knock-off’s country of origin may be China, many profiting from intelectual property theft are just as likely to be American, Canadian, or European. This nonsense about badly dressed Chinese not speaking a word of English, clicking away at trade shows and in stores is hogwash. Who do these people really work for?

you may have a point, but I can’t think of any particular companies where this is true (or where you can make a direct connection). Care to give a couple examples…? I’m talking DIRECT knockoffs, not metoo products with a new skinjob…

I have been thinking a lot about Knock-offs since moving to Asia.

I think companies should be designing there own knock-off. These products would go into markets that the company is not focusing its efforts (ie the developing nations). You have the knock off ready to come out one month after your original product. It comes out at a much lower cost and based around high volumes.

This gets you a few advantages:

  1. Makes it less attractive for others to knock off since the lower price is already out there.
  2. Gets you brand equity for no money. In fact you are receiving some profits for brand development. I t also means your name is already known when you decide to enter a developing market.
  3. It means your factory (if indeed it is Chinese) will be able to be open about a plan they had anyway.

I am sure there are some holes in this that others will mention here, but do think of this plan overall?

In regards to “Whats up with the Chinese” read a little history. From the 50’s to the 90’s there have been very few brands in China. Those years were about making sure a huge population was fed (Read Pearl S Buck’s the Good Earth for background).

In the 80’s and 90’s China began opening up to manfacturing for the west. This was done in strict areas, in fat if you drive out of ShenZhen you can still see the old border crossings. In the early 90’s I had to show my passport to get through. With no brands in one generations memory the idea that someone could control the idea behind a product was completely foreign. Remember they were still “communist” at that time. Plus they saw no hurt in copying western products as these knock offs were only sold internally to China, where these brands could not operate.

Now this brings us to the last few years. Brands have been able to move into China and China is building their own brands. Now there is internal outcry for the control of intellectual property because it hurts Chinese. The government realizes this at some level, but two weeks ago I heard the head of the State intellectual property office and all they said were “We are discussing” and we are thinking about". There is no “doing” yet.

Call me old-fashioned and even infantile, but I can’t stand copycats. Of any stripe.

Here’s one:

For those of you who aren’t aware of it, The Christmas Trees Stores are owned by Bed Bath & Beyond.