By on April 26, 2009

China’s Geely denied “its new top-of-the-line car was a copy of a Rolls-Royce, but the world renowned luxury brand said it was keeping its options open about taking legal action,” reports Gasgoo. At the Shanghai Auto Show, Geely showed their Geely GE—an abomination on wheels that looks like a spitting image of a holdover from the stone age, the Rolls Royce Phantom. The story is the talk of blogoville, so we spare you the gory details. Depending on who does the writing and their proficiency in fractional math, the price of the Phantom-twin is either “one sixth lower than” or “one sixth of” the original. Discount Rollers—most likely a reaction to Farago’s article on class warfare.

While “we-are-reviewing-all-our-options” BMW (owner of Roller) is talking to their lawyers, Geely is talking to the press. But not in a smart way.

According to AFP via Gasgoo, “a Geely spokeswoman admitted Friday that there were some similarities but insisted the GE—which stands for “Geely Excellence”—was an original.”

“As it were, they are actually different . . . people may feel they are the same at the first glance, but the details are certainly different,” spokeswoman Zhang Xiaoshu told AFP.

“Feel at the first glance that it’s the same” is a crucial test in intellectual property law. To prove “likelihood of confusion,” costly and complicated studies usually are conducted. In this case, it’s a slam dunk, it’s already admitted. However, if Rolls Royce forgot to register their intellectual property properly in China (a common mistake), they will pound sand as far as China is concerned.

Funny aside: In its first report on the Phantom lookalike, China’s Gasgoo had used uncharacteristically strong language: The Geely “may seem like a Rolls Royce ripoff, but it has one-upped the deluxe brand by featuring just one, throne-like seat,” they wrote. Then: “The Geely GE is expected to be the first major luxury offering from Geely’s elegant sub-brand YingLun, or ENGLON (standing for England London) if it ever goes into production.” And: “Modeled after the Rolls Royce Phantom in a peculiarly Chinese way, the Geely GE even has its own hood ornament.” They even referred to Rolls Royce as a “Roller.” Hmmm. Not the usual reserved writing style of my esteemed colleague George Gao over at Gasgoo. Turns out, the lines were purloined verbatim from a story running the day before in Jalopnik.

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26 Comments on “Grand Theft Auto: Even the Ripoff Report is a Ripoff...”


  • avatar
    TonyJZX

    good luck suing Geely in China… that bastion of copyright law and intellectual property protection

  • avatar
    holydonut

    Meh. Geely was obviously drawing inspiration from the Chrysler Imperial concept.

  • avatar

    Tony: Actually, the situation is not as bad as commonly told. The problem is that people often don’t understand Chinese trademark law. They think, just because they have a trademark in Europe or the U.S., they automatically are protected in China. They aren’t, unless they file in China. Most countries are “first to use” countries, China is a “first to file” country. Not to give anyone ideas, but I could go ahead and file a trademark for “TheTruthAboutCars” in China, and if accepted, I’d own it and there would be very little for the owner of TTAC to do about it. A lot of the “trademark infringement” complaints come from people who neglected to register their mark in China.

  • avatar
    Nicodemus

    Mmmm interesting…especially since the two most obviously copied items in the Geely are the mascot and the shape of the grille, neither of which BMW actually own. What they have is an exclusive licence to use both these devices and the interlocking RR badge on cars.

    It is possible therefore that BMWs recourse would not be with Geely but with Rolls-Royce PLC who own the licence and thus the responsibility for exclusivity. If they haven’t taken reasonable measures to protect the logos etc, this could be a problem for RR. Except that RR have BMW over a barrel in a ship engine deal so BMW are unlikely to make too much fuss against RR.

  • avatar
    mfgreen40

    A few years ago RR car division split from RR gas turbin engine division and it was my understanding that the airplane engine division owned the RR trademark and leased it to the car division for XX years. Can someone confirm this.

  • avatar
    mpresley

    The “best” of the Shanghai auto show…

    http://tinyurl.com/co7qkz

    Generally speaking, in China, if you can afford the car, you can afford the accessory. But I guess that’s true almost anywhere.

    Also, worth a look: scroll down and check out the link: “Shanghai Girl Forces Boyfriend To Buy Buick Regal.” It’s a different world, over there.

  • avatar
    davey49

    mpresley- well that’s a good sign for GM I guess that people are “crazy” for one of their cars.

    I’m guessing the Geely has a wooden frame?

  • avatar

    mfgree40:

    A few years ago RR car division split from RR gas turbin engine division and it was my understanding that the airplane engine division owned the RR trademark and leased it to the car division for XX years. Can someone confirm this.

    True. That was at the heart of the big VW/BMW Rolls Royce drama. VW had outbid BMW for Rolls. Once the deal was sealed and consumed, VW was told that they had bought a factory in Crowe, and the Bentley brand, but no Rolls Royce brand. That was owned by the turbine guys. They were closer to BMW, because they have a Rolls Royce turbine joint venture. After a lot of back and fro, Volkswagen handed over the Rolls business to BMW. They got a raw deal. The bread & butter (so to speak) of Rolls was always Bentley, much higher numbers. Rollers are sold in the three digits. Without a Bentley base, BMW now has to build costly Rollers.

    Ever vengeful Piech hired Pischetsrieder of BMW – his opponent in the row – then tortured him at VW, and then fired him.

  • avatar
    Robbie

    Thank Bertel Schmitt for clearing that China myth up for us.

    When in China, I hardly ever saw a Geely or Chery. Do Chery and Geely manufacture cars with Honda/Nissan/Fiat/VW etc. badges? Also, it was my impression that the (few) Buicks there are Opels and if so, what will happen after Opel becomes independent?

  • avatar

    The Buicks in China are mostly Daewoos, not Opels.

  • avatar
    vandstra

    And your average American cares about this story how?

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Has any foreign company ever successfully stopped a Chinese look-alike in China’s courts?

    The Chery CQ is so similar to the Chevy Spark that the doors are interchangeable, yet GM’s efforts to stop the CQ in China’s courts have come to nothing but expense and hassle.

    Face it, modern China thumbs its nose at the very idea of intellectual property protection.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    And your average American cares about this story how?

    Maybe you don’t care, but you should.

    The writing is on the wall — China intends to use its low labor costs to create knockoff goods in categories in which they previously could not compete.

    It won’t just be fake Gucci handbags anymore. They’re going to hit all of us where it hurts, in high value products that produce a lot of value for the western countries that produce them.

  • avatar

    If this keeps up, pretty soon, China will be building a fake GENESIS.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    To give a little perspective here…

    Geely couldn’t even make a reliable scooter five years ago… and despite their ‘published’ numbers, the quality of their offerings is absolutely horrible compared to here. It’s not even up to a 1950′s level at this point.

    BMW does have a valid issue and it would probably serve the entire EU better if they unilaterally decided to block Chinese automakers like Geely from conducting any business inside their borders. The US can’t afford it now due to our mind numbing deficits and the need to issue T-bills to the Chinese to support it (guess who’s winning…). The EU still has a choice and the standards needed to make sure that companies and individuals aren’t cheated out of their rights and property.

    Geely and other automakers that genuinely ripoff others without a modicum of honesty about it… should be banned. That’s it. End of story.

  • avatar
    bluecon

    guess who’s winning

    It is staring to look like a lose-lose situation.

  • avatar

    John Horner: Volkswagen did, but they are for all intents and purposes a “Chinese” company with powerful allies. Nevertheless, the opponent got away with a slap on the wrist and a “don’t you ever do that again.”

    While brands and trademarks afford good protection, “design” protection is getting harder and harder to enforce all around the world, especially in Europe and of course China. In Europe, according to new EU law, not visible parts can be reproduced by anybody. Visible parts still have some “design protection,” but there is a hot debate. The parts trade demands that 1:1 copies should be allowed for repair purposes.

    As long as something is not a 1:1 knock-off, it’s a tough case that usually takes a long and costly time in the courts, even in America. In China, it takes longer, but is a little cheaper.

    It takes a while to switch a culture that had no copyright (and where the government had the monopoly to print books and papers) to a culture that is IP aware.

  • avatar

    Robbie:
    Do Chery and Geely manufacture cars with Honda/Nissan/Fiat/VW etc. badges?

    Chery and Geely are China’s most famous “home grown” brands, as opposed to the joint ventures. To my knowledge neither build foreign cars in China. However, they were the first to export (in small numbers) from China. Geely co-owns London taxi maker Manganese Bronze. Chery also gingerly establishes production bases in Iran, Egypt, and Argentina. The Chery QQ is the best selling small car in China.In terms of passenger vehicle market share, Chery ranked 6th in 2008 and Geely 8th

    The Chery QQ / Chevy Spark spat is legend. In Chinese, Chery even sounds like Chevy, and GM threatened Chery to sue their knickers off should they ever show up in the USA

  • avatar
    charly

    Cockerill showed the way how to industrialized a country and China is simply using the same methode as the USA used

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    I like the front end of the Geely better than that of the Bimmer-Roller. The Geely is not pretty, but the B-R is hideous.

  • avatar
    mpresley

    Pch101: The writing is on the wall — China intends to use its low labor costs to create knockoff goods in categories in which they previously could not compete.

    It’s a little different. First,they are not simply using their low labor costs to create knockoffs. In fact, China makes most everything–more so the originals. Sometimes, the same factory making “knock offs” makes the real item. Often, it is the same thing.

    Other times it may be different, but difficult to tell. One can purchase a copy of, say, Windows Vista, on the streets of Shenzhen for 10 Yuan (less than two USD). Now, on a good day, Microsoft Vista might actually be worth 2 USD, but that is not the point. The package looks real, right down to the hologram. I don’t know how they deal with product activation, though.

    I’ve really wondered how Chinese afford cars. given what car ownership in China entails. Also, for the average cat on the street in a big city, a car seems like a nuisance, and not worth the aggravation. On the other hand, it’s kind of weird to see Chinese businessmen, stuck in traffic, woofing down a Big Mac. These people are more like us than most would admit.

  • avatar
    DweezilSFV

    They’re both eyesores. Like something designed by International Harvester.

  • avatar
    bjcpdx

    The front and side views look like a Rolls, but the rear looks more like an updated version of the old Hongqi Red Flag limo.

    Doesn’t matter, though. It’s what’s up front that counts.

  • avatar
    Potemkin

    China knows it owns the West and the West will do nothing to stop the flow of Chinese money so nothing will come of these copyright cases. If you need proof of this fear of Chinese financial might look at the waek US reaction to the Chinese military hacking the Pentagon and spying all over the US.

  • avatar
    Lokkii

    You can make excuses that ‘legalize’ the theft of intellectual property in China, but it’s a serious problem and until recently the Chinese courts have done little about it.

    That finally seems to be changing but there is still no rule of law in China that consistently protects foreign designs yet…

    Here are some examples of court cases that involve design theft by Chinese companies.

    http://www.chinacarforums.com/forum/showthread.php?t=1370
    In a major victory for Indian automobile industry, Bajaj Auto Ltd (BAL) has been able to stop the import, marketing and sale of the copied version of its premium bike Pulsar in Sri Lanka.

    http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/05_06/b3919010_mz001.htm

    GM Daewoo Auto & Technology Co., the Korean subsidiary of GM, says the QQ is a knockoff of its own Matiz minicar, sold in China as the Chevrolet Spark since 2003. “The cars are more than similar,” says Rob Leggat, vice-president for corporate affairs at GM Daewoo. “It really approaches being an exact copy.

    http://www.nextautos.com/german-court-sends-chinese-x5-replica-packing
    The Munich court ruled that the Shuanghuan SUV too closely resembles the BMW X5, and that the Chinese company is infringing on BMW’s design rights. BMW started legal proceedings last September to stop CEO sales.

    http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/biz/archives/2004/12/25/2003216700
    Honda Motor Co, the world’s biggest maker of motorcycles, won a court ruling stopping a Chinese company from selling Hongda brand motorbikes, adding to signs China is getting tougher on intellectual property theft.

    http://www.theautochannel.com/news/2009/01/21/377745.html
    Shanghai, January 21, 2009: (Gasgoo.com) Chinese bus-maker Zhongwei Bus & Coach Group has failed in a patent infringement lawsuit and is asked to pay more than 20 million yuan ($2.93 million) as compensation for Neoplan Bus GmbH, a subsidiary of Man Group, a Beijing-based newspaper reported Wednesday.

    http://science.thomsonreuters.com/news/2005-08/8283393/
    Between the year 2000 and November 2004, Chinese courts on a nationwide basis made rulings in 2171 cases of illegal production; 1948 Chinese individuals were charged with infringement offences during the first trial


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