It’s taken Research In Motion years to bring its BlackBerry service to the Chinese market. It filed its first application to do business in China back in 1999 and since then has registered at least nine trademarks for the device and accompanying service. And now, just a few weeks before the company is to finally open for business in what’s expected to become one of the world’s biggest markets for wireless communications, China Unicom — the country’s state-controlled wireless network — has rolled out a rival service called … wait for it … RedBerry.
“China Unicom’s RedBerry brand not only incorporates people’s familiarity with the BlackBerry brand name, but it also fully embodies the symbolic meanings of China Unicom’s new red logo,” the company said in an announcement that no doubt had RIM CEO Jim Balsillie seeing red himself. A brazen move and one that’s got to be causing angst over at RIM. RedBerry is virtually identical to RIM’s service, albeit quite a bit cheaper. The standard e-mail account at RedBerry costs less than a dollar a month, plus a few cents for each e-mail sent. A typical BlackBerry account in Hong Kong costs up to $64 per month. Clearly, this is an ugly situation for RIM and one that’s almost certain to grow uglier still. “From RIM’s point of view, this is rather disturbing,” a Canadian business consultant in Beijing told The Globe and Mail. “It’s obviously a copycat name. It’s a fairly clever example of brand piracy.”
Clever? Blatant, more like. I’ve long thought that the key determinant of whether China becomes a real global player in the technology business (as distinct from just being a low cost assembly location) is whether its government decides to get serious about enforcing patents and respecting IP. Despite the Economist‘s recent story suggesting that there might be changes afoot, the RedBerry case implies that state-sanctioned piracy rules ok.
But wait — the plot thickens…
Reuters reports that:
China’s computer manufacturers must install operating software before their goods leave the factory gates, the latest effort to address the thorny issue of piracy before President Hu Jintao visits the United States.
The order was given in a notice issued jointly by the Ministry of Information Industry, the State Copyright Bureau and the Ministry of Commerce on March 31 and released to reporters on Monday.
Chinese counterfeiting is a major irritant in U.S.-China trade and American software firms have said they want to see progress on the issue at the 2006 meeting of the U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade in Washington on Tuesday.
“Computers manufactured within the country’s borders should have pre-installed authorised operating software systems when they leave the factory,” the notice said.
Wang Ziqiang, director of the copyright management department at the State Copyright Bureau, said the notice was not about reacting to foreign criticism.
“This is not because of foreign pressure,” he told reporters. “This is about the country’s economic development.”