A new wave of copycat items is flooding China’s already-saturated market for counterfeits. But IP owners should worry less about the products, and more about the thinking behind them.
Issue: May 2009
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By Phil Taylor.
Counterfeits in China are nothing new. But sophisticated
look-alike products produced by entrepreneurs and openly and
actively promoted as identical to - or better than - the
originals, are a more recent phenomenon. The trend, and the
philosophy behind it, is known as shanzhai (
山寨). It is rapidly becoming one of the
biggest threats to companies with legitimate rights to
The term comes originally from Cantonese slang: although the
literal meaning of the Chinese expression is mountain village,
in Guangdong province it has been used for many years to refer
to badly-equipped, small-town factories which sprung up in the
countryside after Deng Xiaoping's reforms in the late 1970s. In
the past two years, the term has gone mainstream and is now
widely used across China as a term referring to look-alikes,
parodies, or knock-off products. One online commentator has
translated the expression as poor man's: the popular
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