In 2011 an Apple Store popped up in the southwestern city of Kunming. At first glance, it looked like a typical Apple outlet: the winding staircase, the friendly employees in blue T-shirts, and the range of gadgets on display. The problem? Apple had no connection to the store – it was a complete fake.
“I think in Yunnan, our store should be one of the best in terms of scale and the level of professionalism,” an unknowing salesman told the Wall Street Journal, oblivious that he was working for a shanzhai (or copycat) store.
Last week staff and patrons at Shanghai’s Chachawan restaurant were similarly surprised to learn that they were working at a knock-off. CNN reported that the Thai eatery was modelled on a popular Hong Kong restaurant of exactly the same name. The Shanghai imposter had also copied the decor and the northeastern Thai – or Isaan – cuisine.
According to Yenn Wong, the restaurateur behind Hong Kong’s Chachawan, Guangzhou’s Banana Group approached her about opening an outpost in Shanghai. She rejected the offer. Not giving up easily, the Chinese firm tried to bypass Wong by convincing her chef (and business partner) Adam Cliff. He also rebuffed the offer.
To their surprise, the two then noticed a number of enthusiastic comments on their company Facebook page about their new restaurant in Shanghai. When Wong looked at the pictures online, she saw that the mainland eatery had copied everything, even the company logo. Its distinctive interior design – created by a local artist for the Hong Kong shop – had also been replicated in Shanghai.
“So disappointing to see a restaurant in China copying not just the Chachawan name but also our exact logo. It’s such a disrespect to people’s creativity and hard work when someone copies you so blatantly… So spread the word – the Hong Kong [store] is the original and the only one we currently operate,” the company rebuked.
When asked whether they knew about the existence of Hong Kong’s, Chachawan, staff at the Shanghai outlet said they had no idea that there was another restaurant operating under the same name.
If it’s any comfort to the Hong Kong founders, That’s Mag, an online publication, says the food at the Shanghai restaurant can’t compete with the original. And there were also reports that Banana Leaf – perhaps a little surprised at the media interest in the case – is considering a change to its logo and a removal of the copied wall art at its Shanghai location.
But for the original eatery, taking legal action is challenging. Although laws are in place to protect trademarks, they are granted on a “first-to-file” basis in China. Whoever registers their mark first with the government gets the right to use it. That leaves slower starters in an awkward position. According to CNN, Japanese cheesecake store Uncle Rikuro also discovered a chain of unlicenced bakeries running under its name in China last year. More than 200 of them are still operating.
Back in July, electric carmaker Tesla also got a taste of China’s trademark labyrinth when it was sued for infringement. The plaintiff, businessman Zhan Baosheng, claimed to own the “Tesla” trademark for China after registering it in 2006. As a result, he filed a lawsuit seeking to stop all of Tesla’s sales and marketing activities in China and demanding $4 million in compensation.
In an interview with CBN, Zhan claimed that he had long harboured ambitions to do something transformative in the electric car industry, although his company was primarily a maker of skincare products at the present time. (The case was resolved in August, with the Chinese businessman settling the dispute and giving ownership of the trademark to Tesla.)
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