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Copy culture

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

Keywords (click to search): IP intellectual property shanzhai counterfeits copyright patent trademark

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 protect.

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 HiPhone,...


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