Chinese Cell Phone Maker Produces iPhone 5 Look-a-Like
Posted on September 6, 2012 by Simon
With all of the iPhone 5 rumors flying around the internet, it was only a matter of time before the inevitable happened: a Chinese handset manufacturer has cleverly created an iPhone 5 look-a-like based on the various (and fairly detailed) photos and specifications of the yet-to-be-announced iPhone 5 that have been leaked through the internet rumor mill. In the Wired.com article, it was stated that the Chinese manufacturer may have patented the iPhone 5′s design in China ahead of Apple. Given that Apple has become embroiled in a number of high profile IP lawsuits, perhaps the Chinese company plans on suing Apple for its iPhone 5 patent in exchange for a nice fat settlement check.
Given what I understand about the patent system – and it’s not a lot, I’ll admit – I’d imagine that Apple had long ago filed for invention, utility, and design patents for the iPhone 5 (or whatever it will be called when Apple officially announces it on Sept 12, according to many sources). The patent review and approval process, however, takes time – years in some cases – depending on the type and complexity of the patent (which is why Patent Pendings are so useful). Until those patents are issued, a company may be vulnerable to challenges to its IP if the company hasn’t secured proper protections in all of its target markets. Given that China is a major market for Apple, I can only assume that Apple has already engaged Chinese IP law firms to apply for patent, trademark, and copyright protections for all of its products and services. If that is not the case, then it’s a serious miscalculation on Apple’s part.
As for the Chinese handset manufacturer, GooPhone, all I can say is that companies like this continue to smear the image of China. Copycats are causing Chinese industry to lose face in the international industrial and commercial arena. Copycats are nothing new, and certainly not the exclusive domain of Chinese industries. China is, however, rightly or wrongly, being heavily scrutinized by political and business leaders in the West, as they watch how this giant nation makes its way in the modern industrialized, consumerist world. All industrialized nations have had a history of copying and adapting technologies from their leading competitors. It’s sort of the natural evolution of industry. The problem here is that never before have the results and consequences of such a methodology been so immediate and far reaching.
As a designer, I value the creation of something new and useful as opposed to an artless forgery of someone else’s creativity. As a designer, I disdain GooPhone and other Chinese copycats’ business practices. Even if new products are based on the knowledge of tearing down and building on top of existing ones, evolutionary innovation can be achieved without having the stink of forgery. There are plenty of excellent designers and design consultancies here in China, both Chinese and foreign, who could develop original, innovative designs for these Chinese companies and give their brands global legitimacy and their consumers something culturally relevant and insightful. Why not hire them? Maybe for the same reason why so many new business, products, and advertisements continue to butcher the English language despite the easy access to native speakers, language services, and a growing number of Chinese who are now well educated in English – because the vast majority of the Chinese consumers either can’t tell the difference or don’t care.
As a consumer, I don’t have a real problem with GooPhone’s tactic of copying the iPhone 5′s alleged form factor and appearance. It’s actually quite remarkable and clever that they’ve been able to hijack Apple’s design and launch an Android powered ‘homage’, even beating Apple to the market. That’s not lazy; that’s industrious and innovative in its own rather unscrupulous way. I don’t worry much about GooPhone taking Apple’s market share, because regardless of what it looks like on the outside, GooPhone’s products will never come close to performing as well as Apple’s. It’s like comparing a Rolex knockoff to the real thing; looks good at first, but just give it a little time and watch it deteriorate before your eyes. What I have a real serious issue with is a patent system that is so poorly designed that it at once both inhibits innovation while also enabling opportunists to ‘game the system’ for unethical profiteering. If GooPhone has actually succeeded in patenting Apple’s design here in China before Apple has, it would be an indictment both of Apple’s failure to perform its due diligence as a company, as well as the inherent dysfunction of Chinese and global intellectual property laws.