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Japan Inc. Clashes with Copycats in Myanmar

Once you’ve finally decided on that vacation to Myanmar, and you find yourself scooting around town on a rented Honda Wave 100, perhaps keep in mind that there is a very real chance that the motor you’re sitting on (and placing your safety in the hands of) is in fact a knockoff.

Myanmar has very little in the way of legislation to deal with patents, trademarks, and other such rights. And as such, the country is filled with copycats and counterfeiters.

Both the Japan Patent Office and the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) have worked aggressively to resolve some of these issues, but the Myanmar government has to date been slow to act. To point, several years back the Japan Patent Office helped with the establishment of a law that addresses many of these concerns. The Myanmar government’s response has been to delay the initial 2013 target to the end of this year (2015). Doesn’t exactly scream “priority” now, does it?

Honda began selling motorcycles in Myanmar in early 2013, and the company has been dealing with not only counterfeit motorcycles selling at 50% less than the authentic models but also shops portraying themselves as official Honda dealers, complete with the Honda name, font, and famous winged logo. Moreover, many of these knockoff shops have the audacity to operate openly near licensed Honda dealers.

According to the Nikkei Asian Review, copycat Honda motorcycles are imported from somewhere outside the Chinese industrial city of Chongqing. While these motorcycles are reportedly almost indistinguishable from the authentic models, they do apparently lack noticeably in terms of both power and durability. (If they are anywhere near the quality of Chinese knockoff watches then that must mean they break within 30 days, errrr, not that I would know anything about this, of course.)

Honda’s employees have been trying to deal with the situation diplomatically by talking with some of the copycat merchants. So far there has been little to no success.

These challenges are not confined to just transportation, however. Japanese hair care and cosmetics producer Shiseido Company, Limited faces similar struggles, having discovered vendors throughout Myanmar selling products emblazoned with their logo and design. The company plans to deal with each problem specifically as they arise in the near future.

To be fair to Myanmar—laws enduring—these problems arise in most every country. Japan, too, has had its own history with copycats and has dealt with similar problems as recent as several years ago. Seattle-based coffee behemoth Starbucks had issue with Doutor Coffee Co., Ltd. for using a strikingly similar green logo and signage at the company’s Excelsior Café chains.

Unfortunately for Starbucks, this seems to happen considerably more than they would like.

Getting a law passed is an important first step, very true. Having it enforced by local authorities is an altogether different story, though. As anyone who has ever traveled in Southeast Asia can attest, it’s often more difficult to locate and buy an authentic product rather than the counterfeit. Moreover, in many circumstances—electronics, footwear, and appliances to name but a few—good luck in trying to differentiate between the two. Well, until after that fact, that is.

H/T: Nikkei Asian Review