Does creative culture really thrive with copycats? According to the authors of The Knockoff Economy: How Imitation Sparks Innovation, they force innovation and make business cycles run faster. Besides, it’s impossible to stop design knockoffs or counterfeit consumer goods that rip-off brand name products. We’ve seen them all — they infringe on trademark, copyright, patent or intellectual property laws. Last year, there were $1.77 trillion of global trade in the knockoff industry, which is double than what it was seven years ago. Aside from counterfeit fashion, food and tech products, there are also knockoff medication, including antibiotics, that kills over 700,000 people a year in underdeveloped countries. The Stop Online Piracy Acts (SOPA) bill was introduced to fight knockoffs, but the worst countries China, Nigeria and India, still run rampant. Human rights is the biggest issue, as underpaid children are often the ones illegally making these products in sweatshops, according to writer Dana Thomas, who wrote Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster. Major brands have still been caught in sweatshop scandals, including Apple. As major shopping sites like Amazon and eBay allow their customers to report counterfeit goods, knockoff design is all in the details. Whether it’s the BlockBerry or the iPed, here are some of the best and worst design knockoffs we’ve come across.
Obama Fried Chicken
In 2011, students from Beijing City University opened an Obama Fried Chicken restaurant on campus, selling fried chicken and hamburgers. They modified the traditional Kentucky Fried Chicken logo, which was first designed in 1952 but was updated in 1997 by Landor Associates and shows Colonel Sanders smiling. The Chinese version, obviously, shows Obama. This slapdash project quickly came to a halt when KFC China threatened to take legal action. The new restaurant is called “UFO,” but Obama remains on their logo. In another case, KLG fast food restaurants once operated in China and Malaysia.
By using the same logo shape, colors and similar font, there’s not much of a difference between this and the real Starbucks logo, which was created by Terry Heckler in 1971. Initially, it was inspired by a logo based on a 15th century Norse woodcut of a two-tailed siren. It was redesigned when Howard Schultz took over in 1987 and the current logo was unveiled in 2011 for the company’s 40th anniversary, which covers up the mermaid’s breasts and navel. In another case, Sffcccks Coffee, is part of a street of knockoffs in China, which is accompanied by H&M knockoff (H&N) and Zara (Zare). The stores never opened, they were just mock ups to inspire potential real estate moguls to buy the entire strip.
The Procter & Gamble toothpaste, which first hit the market in 1955, has an imitator in Libya — not China, but it’s available there, as well. While the original Crest logo was designed by Donald Deskey, an American designer who saw his rise in the 1940s and 1950s, this Libyan brand adjusts the typography with a playful, albeit cheesy touch. They offer a free toothbrush in its package with “whitening” and “fresh mint,” which define Crest’s brand. Granted, the word “Crust” doesn’t exactly conjure up clean teeth, but it’s still for sale on Alibaba for as low as 2 cents a tube.
Tids Laundry Detergent
This laundry detergent, a Tide rip-off, has traces of famous orange-and-yellow bullseye, which was designed by Donald Deskey back in 1946 when Tide hit the market with Procter & Gamble as the “new washing miracle.” The logo was updated most famously on the company’s 50th anniversary in 2008. In this Chinese knockoff, the logo is more of a yellow swirl atop an orange background, but the blue logo and Day-Glo colors remain. Just last month, counterfeit Tide detergent was found at a Seattle port and reported to border officers who found 1,500 cartons from China claiming they originated in the U.S.
The advertisement reads in Chinese: “Obama have BlackBerry, I have BlockBerry.” Using Obama, again, as an unverified photo probably taken by the press, this Chinese BlackBerry knockoff created in 2009, the same year Obama was sworn into presidency. The phone is haff-comm’s Huawei K3-based WinMo 6.1 handset with a 460MHZ processor and a 3.2-inch touchscreen with WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS and supports 3G and EDGE. Obama, for the record, still uses his BlackBerry, or so he said in an interview last year at Stanford University , but he still uses an iPad for leisurely surfing. Both his daughters both have iPhones.
The fake Apple retail chain
In 2011, 22 fake apple stores were found in the Chinese city of Kunming, all doing business without a license. The stores had the Apple logo outside, a similar open-concept format with wooden tables and similarly-branded Apple products lining the walls. It comes as no surprise, as there are enough fake Apple products in China to open stores for them — including the iPed, the iPhone Nano, the iPnoho6, the MacBook Air falsely advertised with Bob Borchers, the iPod Mini Swirl and the iMac lavi. Taking photos in these stores will get you thrown out by security, unless you say you’re an Apple employee from another country.
Super Wonderful Mario
Probably the most famous video game in the world, Super Mario Bros. by Nintendo was founded in Japan in 1983 by video game designer Shigeru Miyamoto. The main character, Mario, is based upon a real estate mogul Mario Segale, who had a beef with Nintendo America’s head office. In this Chinese knockoff, Mario, whose outfit is patterned like the American flag, is surrounded by a cast of characters that includes Snow White, a round creature that looks like a pimple, a dinosaur, a goat and Cap’n Crunch. Playing pirated Mario games has become a gaming novelty and reviews are on YouTube. One game reviewer says the game has faster music, but all the characters are the same as any other Mario game. Disappointing, considering the wacky logo design, you expect more.
More information on copyright infringement, take William M. Borchard’s HOW Design University course, Intellectual Property Rights for Designers. You’ll learn what intellectual property rights are, how you can protect your design work, how you might be infringing the design rights of another, to what extent you can use another’s designs, and practical steps you should take for protection and to avoid infringement.