There is a saying that ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.’ While this might be the case in the context of someone imitating the behavior of others, in the case of commercial products especially in the western world you may end up with lawsuits and complex intellectual property issues. No matter how flattering it is to have one’s design imitated by others, if this meant market share erosion or others profiting from one’s design without attribution, one would feel violated and there is law that can help enforcing the right to the intellectual property. When you go to developed countries, however, this becomes harder to enforce, and sometimes it may not be worth the effort trying to seek protection from local law.

When traveling in Southeast Asia, we saw such violation in many places, especially with brand name clothing or footwear. It ranges from something that imitates the design but has different brand (e.g., the three stripes design from Adidas that were imitated by local clothing manufacturers), some that has similar look and feel as the original and even has brand name that is similar to the original (I had seen shoes with brand ‘Rebok’ with one e), or others that looked exactly like the original, and even had the original brand’s name, but with price that is a fraction of the original merchandise.

One thought that came to my mind was how to react to this as a consumer. Should we be avoiding buying these merchandise and only purchase the original articles (that might be much more expensive), or should we take advantage of the lack of enforcement and purchase the merchandise there? For clothing or footwear, sometimes it’s more difficult decision to make when you find out that even when you purchase the merchandise at the official company store in the US, you would find that the merchandise was made in the developed country anyway.

The photo below was taken at a store in Sapa, Vietnam, where Kristi and I stopped by to look for souvenirs. They had these sandals on display. They looked very much like the unique Keen sandals design (with the toe protector and all), but if you pay a close attention, you see that the brand was actualy 5-ten (but from far away, it looked very much like Keen logo). Would I buy these? Probably not, as I purchased my original Keen sandals not because I care for its looks, but more for the reliability of the original product (so getting something that looked the same at cheaper price but wouldn’t last long was not really an option I considered).

Keen knockoffs

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