Notorious for copying items like handbags, videos, software, and bearings, Chinese manufacturers are getting even more audacious. They’re copying entire designs sold by some high-end Italian machinery makers and selling them in China at low prices, made possible by using lower cost components and avoiding import fees. In one case, one brazen company even attempted to register the original Italian manufacturer’s brand name here.
“At any recent exhibition in Shanghai, for example the ACLE Leather Fair in September, we have seen several copies of our small (1800 mm) roller coating machines,” says Giulio Tandura, President of Linta URL, an Italian manufacturer of roller coating and finishing machines for leather goods marketed under the brand names Linta and Gemata. The company is known for its innovative engineering efforts, including a reverse roller technology it developed that deposits more ink on the hides for a better finish.
Though it has been able to protect its brand name (despite efforts by one company to register it here), those patents have proven to be difficult to protect. “The cost to protect them in China is high, and the possibility of success is scarce,” says Tandura. “So copies are easy. We have taken pictures, and it is clear that the designs are copied, even the color is the same.”
Below is a photo of a Gemata roller coating machine (top) and its Chinese knock-off taken at a show in Shanghai:
Though the machines may look similar, Tandura says that the overall quality of the construction and components is quite different. “Sometimes they buy special coating rollers in Italy from traders, but for the most part they use Chinese components. The overall quality of the machine is not at our level, so good tanneries with quality standards prefer to import our machines.”
Linta sells about 10% of its Gemata production in China, though they do not source any parts or assembly here. Tandura says that although it is hard to give exact figures, his company could probably double sales here if it did not have to compete with copies of its own stuff.
Italian manufacturers Marchesini, a maker of packaging equipment, and Ronchi, which specializes in high-speed filling machines, say they too have seen copies of their equipment popping up. In Ronchi’s case, Michele Falsini, export manager, says that the copies weren’t hard to spot. “They meticulously reproduced some mistakes in the machine that we have since re-engineered out,” he says with a grin.
“For the time being, we have only seen exact copies of our machines in India alone and, seeing as they are identical copies of our products, it was quite easy to prove this,” says Piero Tomasi, Commercial Director of the Marchesini Group. “There are on the other hand many machines on the international market, from the so-called up and coming countries such as China, India and Korea, where the machines are not exact copies of European machines but combinations of concepts taken all over the place among various solutions already available in Europe.”
Pietro says that his company’s products too are protected by patents that are not valid in China. He believes that copies have harmed potential sales in China, pointing to the fact that European-made machines make up only about 1% of the blister pack machines sold here in China. Domestic machines sell for as much as 50% less, he says, depending on the quality of the material and finished product.
While these companies can’t do much to deter the copyists, they are fighting back: “The Chinese are learning quickly and the only possibility to compete price-wise in their market is to make production in China. We also are trying to stay one or two steps ahead with our technology developments, although the gap is increasingly easy to be filled,” says Tandura.
Piero Tomasi says his company has elected to pursue the same strategy it has pursued elsewhere in the world: “We firmly believe that Marchesini Group is able to maintain its competitiveness on the international market by investing in technology, in order to offer cutting edge machines and complete lines featuring innovative solutions for packaging pharmaceuticals and cosmetics and to provide the best possible customer service with a product that fulfills all the specific requirements.”