Seems like China is casting an ‘infringement spell’ on its neighbors. This time, Gucci has come at the receiving end of an abysmal IP enforcement policy. Unfortunately, the infringer in question is Hong Kong.
To put things in perspective, China has an age old tradition of honoring the dead and appeasing their spirits by offering them things and burning ghost money that they can use in their afterlife.
Now Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region of China. It has its own currency, legal system and parliamentary system. Therefore for all practical purposes, Hong Kong is a separate country to China. However, Chinese influence is abound and several practices, including those with respect to funerals, are common.
However, this tradition of appeasing the spirits of the dead is now being followed with a modern twist. The Hong Kong Chinese are now opting for Gucci and Louis Vuitton handbags and shoes to be burned for their ancestors!
Before you lose your mind over this, let me inform you that these are not real Gucci shoes or handbags and are in fact made of paper. Yes! There is a booming market for such paper counterfeits in China and Hong Kong.
Gucci recently sent notices to a number of stores in Hong Kong that were indulged in the sale of such goods. According to Gucci, they did not want people to mistake that Gucci was now into selling funeral products. While many store owners promptly took such products off the shelves, some continued selling them. Gucci’s act received mixed responses with some supporting the act, while some stating that the act was absolutely unreasonable. Store owners, especially considered the act to be unwelcome. In their opinion, since the target audience is primarily dead people, production of such ‘counterfeit’ products whose primary purpose is to be burned will not punch a hole in the market share of high-end luxury brands such as Gucci.
Fearing the backlash might affect their sales, Gucci was quick to apologize and issued a statement that they did not wish to hurt anyone’s sentiments. Though Gucci stated that it will discontinue legal action and not press for compensation, Chinese manufacturers are most certainly feeling the heat of the growing surge of trademark protection and enforcement.
China is one of the largest markets for high-end luxury brand products in the world. With the law failing to take definitive action, wary manufacturers are adopting safeguards to avoid impending suits. For example, Alibaba Group’s online shopping marketplace Taobao has decided to clamp down on entities that utilize the portal to trade in counterfeit products. Come May 20 and entitities trading in luxury brands will have to upload proof that the goods and authentic. Proof could be submitted either in the form of an invoice or an authorization letter from the luxury brands stating that the goods are genuine.
Thinking of the Chinese market reminds me of the English Vinglish song ‘…to your left is Prada, to your right is Zara, Giorgio, Armani…’ Unfortunately, in the case of China, most of it is fake. Hope there are achche din soon for IP enforcement in China.