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Editorial

No joy in JoyRulBee

/ 05:28 AM February 03, 2019

“Ronald WcDonald,” “Starfucks,” “Dairy Fairy,” “OFC” (Obama Fried Chicken), “Plada.” No, they’re not parody names, but actual, official names of restaurants and establishments in China that are unabashed ripoffs of international brands.

The phenomenon, dubbed “Shan Zai,” is the Chinese practice of producing fake and imitation products, services and brands, out of which have emerged knockoffs of practically everything — gadgets, handbags, watches, smartphones, jewelry, apparel, sneakers, DVDs, software, etc.

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Many of them can be seen in commercial centers in San Juan and Divisoria in Manila, which are favorite haunts of Filipino bargain hunters — so, yes, we are party to this massive piracy enterprise, too.

International travelers to China over the years have had their sometimes rude, sometimes rollicking awakening to the country’s copycat culture.

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Among them are Filipinos Christopher Guzman and his wife, who recently discovered a restaurant in Guangxi province that immediately reminded them of a beloved Filipino fast-food brand, but in an odd, startling way: The blazing red color, the happy bee, the familiar logo, even the basic menu of fried chicken, spaghetti, burger fries and ice cream — it was unmistakably Jollibee. But the store bore another name: JoyRulBee.

“It’s the same style as Jollibee, but the taste is different. Jollibee tastes better,” reported the Guzmans, who have lived in China for 10 years.

One may look at this as the ultimate form of flattery — more proof perhaps that Jollibee, already the dominant fast-food player in Southeast Asia and the 16th largest in the world by sales, is truly on its way to becoming a top global brand, now that it has joined the likes of Apple and Ikea as a target of Chinese impersonation.

But Jollibee Food Corp. is not amused, and rightly so; it has vowed to take legal action against its poor Chinese copycat for trademark infringement.

“Our legal team has been taking the necessary steps in order to protect and uphold our company’s trademark rights as provided for under the law,” said Jollibee in a statement.

If it comes to pass, it may yet be the first Philippine test case against a business establishment in mainland China. And Jollibee will have to wage battle against a major plank of the Chinese economy, its counterfeiting industry.

China is the source of 70 percent of the world’s pirated goods, leading to losses of as much as $250 billion to US companies and 60 billion euros to European firms every year, according to reports.

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The battle may seem daunting, if not costly, but the Philippine company should find encouragement in precedents that saw some foreign companies scoring legal victories against counterfeiters in Beijing and elsewhere.

Years ago, for instance, Starbucks haled Shanghai Xingbake into court after it opened coffee shops in 2003 under the name Xingbake, which translates to Starbucks in English.

A Shanghai court later ruled that Xingbake was engaged in “illegitimate competition” by infringing on Starbucks’ copyright, and ordered it to pay the American company $62,000 in damages.

The penalty was small, but the landmark ruling was seen as a sign that China was buckling under international pressure to come down hard on its counterfeiters.

In 2016, after four years of legal battle, basketball icon Michael Jordan won a favorable ruling from China’s highest court against sportswear company Qiaodan Sports Company, which had made a brand around the Mandarin transliteration of Jordan’s name.

To be fair, Chinese authorities have acted on their own even in the absence of a legal complaint. After an exposé by an American blogger, law enforcers swooped down on more than a dozen fake Apple stores in Kunming in 2011 and shut them down.

But, over the years, Chinese counterfeiters have also grown more skillful. They go around the law and stay under the radar by trading their merchandise via social messaging networks, and accepting payments through private messaging apps.

Jollibee’s upcoming fight in China to protect its name should make for a compelling story to follow, not only for the trademark issues involved, but also for the sense of personal attachment many Filipinos feel toward a plucky homegrown brand now conquering the world.

The Chinese have brusquely elbowed the Philippines aside in the South China Sea, grabbing islands and waters not their own in violation of international law; now they’re appropriating even Jollibee? Jolly boo.

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TAGS: brand piracy, Inquirer editorial, JoyRulBee, ripoffs of international brands, Shan Zai
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