It's Smart to copy - but is it legal?

From the IPKat's friend Peter Groves comes news, via the Financial Times, of more troubles brewing for the European automotive industry in China. DaimlerChrysler and BMW are threatening legal action over Chinese-made vehicles that they claim are copies of their own models. This has prompted German Chancellor Angela Merkel to describe plagiarism and copyright infringement in China as "a big problem" in what presumably is a understated speech that was not intended to offend her hosts in Beijing.

According to the report, DaimlerChrysler is considering "unspecified legal action" if Chinese carmaker Shuanghuan Automobile exhibits the Noble (left), which allegedly closely resembles the Smart Fortwo minicar (above, right), at the Frankfurt motor show this October. BMW is objecting to another Shuanghuan vehicle - the CEO - which it says closely resembles a version of its X5 sports utility vehicle which was discontinued in 2006.

The IPKat is greatly saddened by this. So many of us would like to welcome China warmly into the mainstream of lawful international trade, to salute that country's enterprise and its ingenuity. So when things like this happen, it doesn't just make a lot of people very angry with China but casts doubts upon the credibility of those people who have continued bravely to stake their credibility upon statements that China has changed and truly shares our cherished trade values. The Kat also warns China - carry on with this design theft and WE'LL CLONE YOUR PANDAS!

Above, right: the FIAT Panda ...

Merpel adds, I hope that there is no truth to the rumour that the Chinese versions are so similar to the originals that the only way you can tell them apart is by checking if there's any lead in the paint ...

Left: ... and the new cloned DaimlerChrysler Panda, currently being stockpiled for an assault on the Chinese market

Cloning of pandas here and here
Panda recipes here
Betty Crocker's Panda Cake here
Panda surprise here
It's Smart to copy - but is it legal? It's Smart to copy  -  but is it legal? Reviewed by Jeremy on Thursday, September 06, 2007 Rating: 5


  1. Surely it is not the copying that is the issue. People copy everywhere - in China, in Germany, in the US, in the UK and so on. More to the point is can effective action be taken against such copying? In Germany, it looks like it can; but in China? Have the Germans tried? Did they secure the necessary registrations? There have been cases in the past where car manufacturers have failed to protect themselves and have suffered as a consequence. So it would be interesting to know what, if anything, DaimlerChrysler has attempted to do in the Chinese courts to prevent this alleged copying.

  2. DaimlerChrysler have a pretty good record for securing registrable rights where they're available - and it's the threat of marketing of the Noble in Germany, not China, that seems to have triggered this event.

  3. Not unheard of unfortunately. There was a long standing spat between Daewoo Automotive of Korea and China's Chery Automotive. Daewoo built a car called the Matiz for a few years in Korea. Then Chery came out with the QQ looking almost exactly the same.

    There was one small difference, a cosmetic change to the grille. I remember a humorous quote for a Chery official pleading to the Australian press at a motor show "No, No, its not the same. See our car is looking like its smiling at you."

    Eventually GM (who in the interim bought Daewoo) settled with Chery, and for some inexplicable reason are talking of a joint venture between them.


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