Plagiarism is any creative industry is an incessant problem, allowing people to get away with ideas that are not rightfully theirs. This is particularly evident in China, who is notorious for their knockoffs of products from around the world. However a landmark victory in a recent court case might be changing that as China’s engineering industry is put under the spotlight.
Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) celebrated the victory which is being called a ‘first’ for the global car industry in which they made claims against a Chinese automaker inside a Chinese court and won.
It all started when JLR sued Jiangling Motors Corp in 2016. The Chinese automaker has just released a car named the Landwind X7. It seemed to look eerily similar to JLR’s Evoque.
JLR charged the company with lifting their intellectual property. The Beijing Chaoyang District Court ruled that the side-body design, window outlines, and front and rear lights were all lifted and copied by Jianling Motors.
JLR said in a statement: “We welcome this decision of the Beijing court, which further strengthens our confidence in investing in China and in the fairness of intellectual property adjudication in the Chinese courts. This ruling is a clear sign of the law being implemented appropriately to protect consumers and uphold their rights so that they are not confused or misled, whilst protecting business investment in design and innovation.”
The court ordered all production of the Landwind to stop effective immediately.
However, not all engineers who see their work copied are as successful in stopping or have the means to stop the copycat engineering when they see it arise.
A multi-industry problem
The Verge reports that counterfeit products cost United States’ businesses at least $600 billion USD in 2017. They spoke to the founder of a tech company that launched a self-titled product named ‘Pressy’.
Pressy was a device that would plug into the headphone jack of most smartphones and send command signals to the phone on the press of a button.
When choosing to fundraise through crowdsourcing platform Kickstarter, the founders of Pressy could not have anticipated that they could be opening themselves up to copycats who were ready to steal their idea.
Suddenly, the engineers behind Pressy began to see a Chinese website use images of their product and begin a crowdfunding campaign of their own for the same product. That product turned out to be an exact copy of the Pressy technology that Nimrod Back, CEO and Co-Founder of Pressy invented.
The Chinese copycat fundraiser campaign reached its goal and beat the initial inventors of Pressy to the market with an idea that was originally theirs. Another Chinese company bought the Chinese copycat company and turned his version of ‘Pressy’ into a mainstream item in the smartphone market in China.
Soon after, major smart technology company Xiaomi released their own Pressy-like button. Upon further inspection, the inventors of Pressy discovered that the phone manufacturer was using the exact factory the founders of Pressy did, and were making a knock-off on the same machines that had been earmarked for the production of Pressy.
The idea of suing a company as large as Xiaomi was just not economically viable for a company as small as Pressy. The engineers chose to move on and sell as many of their own version as they could.
Specialist advisory companies are now rising up to help engineers and the like protect their assets from being exploited by copycats. Dragon Innovation is one of those companies. Scott Miller the CEO and co-founder of Dragon Innovation spoke to the Verge. He said that a product is made up of three components that each have their own vulnerabilities. He says these components are ‘electrical, mechanical, and software’.
“Mechanical is really tough to protect. Anybody with a laser scanner can basically recreate in CAT pretty quickly. Electrical is a little harder to protect. But, if somebody is motivated they can actually take an X-ray machine and X-ray all your traces and be able to re-create the printed circuit board or figure out what components you have selected even if you wipe off the silkscreen.”
“And then the third system, software, is the one that I always choose to protect because, in some ways, it’s the easiest to rip off if you can copy it, but it is also where most of the IP [intellectual property] lives.”
Engineers are encouraged to take out design patents on products they engineer as a form of protection against copycats. However, chasing copycats with the law is an expensive endeavor. Engineers are consequently encouraged to get as close to launch as possible without publishing the details of their product.
Davies, Rob. “Jaguar Wins Landmark Case against Chinese Copy of Evoque Model.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 22 Mar. 2019, www.theguardian.com/business/2019/mar/22/jaguar-land-rover-wins-landmark-case-against-chinese-evoque-copycat.
“A Gadget Maker's Worst Nightmare...” YouTube, 2 Apr. 2019, youtu.be/7m2K9f6vjgU.