A little over six months ago, I wrote about a retail store in Kunming, China, that replicated IKEA stores, right down to the color scheme. I said then, and still believe now, that brand recognition is an intellectual property, and its violation is just as important as patent or trademark infringement.

Which is why I find it important to bring attention to a recent article in the Financial Times, “Villagers Fight Over Patents in Rural China.” (Reprinted on IBNLive.)

The article by Patti Waldmeir tells of Xu Song, a rural villager and owner of 799 Chinese furniture design patents — none of which are of designs he developed himself, but rather obtained from his neighbors. The article goes on to state that his neighbors in Dongfeng village also didn’t create the designs, but instead copied them from retailers such as IKEA, and Asian designers.

Here’s where it becomes ironic. According to the article, Xu registered the knockoff-design patents “as a way to protect them from being pilfered by copycats.” But any altruism aside, he is also demanding villagers pay him for the licensing rights. And although the villagers are upset over being forced to pay to use the designs Xu confiscated from them, it is ironic that they, in turn, saw nothing wrong with the fact that they copied/stole the intellectual properties in the first place.

And here’s where it becomes a sad state of affairs. According to the article, this quagmire is entirely legal under current Chinese patent law, which doesn’t require proof (or seem to care) that the design is original.

This is just one example — there are many others, affecting many industries. But unless China tightens its laws, it will never become a country of innovation like it desires, just one of imitation.

Read more of Karen's blogs.

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