The ongoing intellectual property rights dilemma has taken a bizarre twist. With Hu Jintao’s promise to tighten up IPR protection still hanging in the air and his buddying-up with Bill Gates – a serial victim of Chinese piracy – still fresh in the mind, BlackBerry manufacturer RIM has become the latest scalp in this legal jungle.
BlackBerries – the e-mailing device that makes a corporate executive stand out from the crowd – are set to make their mainstream arrival in China in a few months through a partnership with China Mobile. However, RIM didn’t expect to be beaten to the market by a similar service offered by the other state mobile operator, China Unicom. The name of this rival device? RedBerry. Oh yes.
RedBerry developer Facio Software Inc. doesn’t seem in the least bit bothered by this flagrant exploitation of another company’s brand – in fact it is quite boastful. Proclaiming on its website that “We are the Redberry!”, Facio Software emphasises that its service is available “before RIM’s BlackBerry”. A further comment reads: “The Redberry is not afraid, neither did David fear Goliath!”
Poor RIM – it’s a wealthy mulitnational but it still has rights – appears to have been caught up in a turf war between China Mobile and China Unicom. [Note to foreign investors: try and avoid becoming a bargaining chip in a battle between two hugely influential SOEs.] Speaking to AP, RIM CEO Jim Balsillie said as much:”It’s a strange marketing plan. It’s kind of brazen, this kind of poke in the eye by China Unicom at China Mobile.”
And what can RIM do about this? Nothing. “China has its own gestation cycle and you work with it and you respect it,” Balsillie said. What has it to gain from kicking up a fuss and threatening to withdraw from the China Mobile deal? A move to take the higher moral ground will simply result in lower commercial profits. Like countless companies before it, RIM must bite the bullet, stay standing in the market and hope that IPR protection improves – or the RedBerry bursts – sooner rather than later.