In China, Knockoff Cellphones Are a Hit

iphonecopycapIf you’ve ever been to China, you’ve had the opportunity to buy knockoff counterfeit goods: Rolex watches, Gucci handbags or Nike sneakers, as well as pirated software, CD’s and DVD’s. Well, the Times now reports that the proliferation of  counterfeit or copycat phones, known as “shanzhai” (black market), are all the rage in China now, making up to 20% of the cellphone market in China:

“All this innovation comes from an industry that only took off in 2005, after Mediatek, a semiconductor design firm from Taiwan, helped significantly reduce the cost and complexity of producing a mobile phone. Using what experts call a turnkey solution, Mediatek developed a circuit board that could inexpensively integrate the functions of multiple chips, offering start-ups a platform to produce a low-cost mobile phone… Marketing strategies were simple: steal. Designs and brand names were copied identically or simply mimicked. (Sumsung for Samsung or Nckia for Nokia.)”

There are plenty of Chinese suppliers able to sell all the basic components for a cell phone, so the barriers to entry for assembling and selling a knock-off is plenty easy. It’s the natural evolution of counterfeiting or copycatting as China moves up market; I wonder when we’re going to see knockoff Jaguar’s, Porsche’s, Boeing’s and Airbus’s?

I don’t see any of this changing in China in the near future. I know Taiwan was often cited as a haven for counterfeits and knockoffs, and remember even buying a “New York Bulls” t-shirt once for the fun of it. But with Taiwan becoming a more “advanced” R&D and manufacturing society, as well as increased crackdowns by the government, Taiwan has cleaned up its act. China has only made token efforts to clean up and enforce Intellectual Property (IP) rights, a constant issue with Western companies and governments. The next time I’m in China, I’d be curious to take a look at some of these knockoff phones, including the Hi-Phone.

Image: Meizu M8 mobile phone – copycat of the Apple iPhone.  Image source: The New York Times.

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About John

I'm a Taiwanese-American and was born & raised in Western Massachusetts, went to college in upstate New York, worked in Connecticut, went to grad school in North Carolina and then moved out to the Bay Area in 1999 and have been living here ever since - love the weather and almost everything about the area (except the high cost of housing...)
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