PHONE_FEATURES_7260_cr.jpgImitation is the sincerest form of flattery but Nokia does not like the compliment. It is suing two Shenzhen manufacturers
for making mobile phones that allegedly infringe on the design of its
popular 7260 phone — the one with a large silver “S” on the front.

Surprisingly,
this is Nokia's first IPR action in China relating to product design
and while most mobile phones are pretty indistinguishable these days,
the 7260 is quite distinctive — even I recognise it — which
presumably is why Nokia is taking action.

It comes at a time when other famous western brands, such as Starbucks, have successfully enforcing IPR using China's legal system. Nevertheless, it is difficult to see what Nokia hopes to achieve.

The
7260 will be history by the time the case is definitely resolved and
the relatively meagre damages being claimed — 500,000 yuan — makes it
hard for Nokia to argue that the two Chinese manufacturers have had
much of an impact on sales of the world's largest phone manufacturer.

I suspect that, rather, this is Nokia firing a warning shot across the bows of China's electronics sub-contracting industry.

These
days, much of the manufacturing and, increasingly, design of mobile
phones bearing western brands is done in China. Nokia, for example, has
half a dozen factories in China.

These facilities depend on
local suppliers and sub-contractors, which inevitably also work for
rival Chinese OEMs, such as Telsda, a defendant in the Nokia case.

Now, Telsda
hardly conforms to the image of fly-by-night counterfeiter. It employs
more than 2,000 staff, has ISO 9001 certification and is described as
one of “the new stars” in China's domestic handset industry by iSuppli, the market research firm.

But
given the complex web of relationships in the industry and often lax
attitudes to IPR, it is easy to see how rival phones can end up sharing
not just components but also the same “look and feel”.

Nevertheless,
if China's hi-tech manufacturers want closer relationships with western
brand-names — presenting themselves as EMS and ODM partners rather
than simple suppliers — then they will have to tighten up business
processes to ensure that trade secrets and designs cannot walk out of
the door.

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