A Culture of Copying

AppleSamsung1 A Culture of Copying

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Rarely do I go into the messy mine-ridden field of cultural commentary. Please indulge me this one time.

Among the verdicts for the various Apple vs. Samsung lawsuits coming out, other events have been happening in my personal life that have gotten me again pondering why we see so much blatant copying in Korea. It’s unashamed, as in people are surprised when someone points out that copying may be wrong.

SPOILER ALERT

I don’t have a pat answer at the end nor anywhere. Let me lay down some graphic examples of unapologetic copying that are but representatives of a sea of copyright infringements, logo hijackings, and downright plagiarism that anyone can see while walking down a street in Seoul.

Apple vs. Samsung

Let me get all this off my A.D.D.-riddled brain first. The Korean media and netizen response to the California Apple vs. Samsung verdict have predictably defended Samsung. It’s mostly been loud proclamations of psychological projections. They accuse the jury of being overtly nationalist in their decision to side with Apple while also lambasting their “leftist” press for not being nationalist enough–for admitting that Samsung is a bloated behemoth that is so myopically arrogant and institutionally corrupt that it makes the Sopranos make out like a Girl Scout troop. They criticize the idea of a jury itself, one of the longest lived and most cherished foundations of modern law. They pronounce that juries shouldn’t decide tech-heavy cases, ignoring that there were engineers and patent holders on the jury itself that helped educate those that weren’t up on the technology and patent law. Said the head juror retired engineer Velvin Hogan:

We were at a stalemate, but some of the jurors were not sure of the patent prosecution process. Some were not sure of how prior art could either render a patent acceptable or whether it could invalidate it. What we did is we started talking about one and when the day was over and I was at home, thinking about that patent claim by claim, limit by limit, I had what we would call an a-ha moment and I suddenly decided I could defend this if it was my patent…And with that, I took that story back to the jury and laid it out for them. They understood the points I was talking about and then we meticulously went patent by patent and claim by claim against the test that the judge had given us, because each patent had a different legal premise to judge on. We got those all sorted out and decided which ones were valid and which ones were not. [link]

Oh, and I imagine that the judges in the Korean case, untainted by an unwashed jury, had those engineering degrees in their pockets?

What it came down to was not anything that technical. It was memos that basically said that Samsung needed to copy Apple and FAST!

History of the iPhone in Korea

For those who were not here in Korea or have forgotten, let me give a brief history of the smartphone in Korea. The iPhone had already been around for two years before it appeared on Korean shores in 2009. Before then, the average Korean didn’t have Apple on her radar. It was a maker of iPods, which were slowly creeping up on the market share of the popular iRiver MP3 players. People didn’t have Macs. If they did, they were useless because most Korean websites heavily depended on using Microsoft’s defunct ActiveX plug-ins to run them. Some still do, especially for security, even though Microsoft itself has publicly ditched ActiveX.

The Korean mobile makers dominated the Korean marketplace. Nokia was sort of making an appearance, but it was flaccid. Samsung, LG, and company were innovating in making cell phones cuter and fuller of gimmicks, like the unfortunately named Magic Hole. And does anyone remember the craze for the Show phones? They even got K-Pop groups to team up on phone models, like the Lollipop model, whose TV campaign was a hit music video from (at the time) fledgling girl group 2NE1 and Big Bang.

The foreign community was plugged into what was going on overseas, and we were begging to get the iPhone in Korea. We’d mention this to Korean friends and co-workers, who responded with puzzled looks.

“What’s an iPhone? What’s so great about it?”

It wasn’t that Apple didn’t want to enter the Korean market. The government had placed protectionist controls to block it out. The iPhone didn’t conform to some outdated data standard that the government required. After a lot of work, this requirement got dropped in 2009. Apple made a carrier partnership with Korea Telecom. The iPhone finally entered the Korean market in late 2009.

This whole time the Korean manufacturers were smug and actually clueless of what was going on in overseas markets. They were smug in the sense that they were banking on Korean nationalism to again support them like they do the car industry. I call it D-War nationalism, after the fervor for the god-awful dragon movie that came out a few years ago that Koreans at the time blindly supported–even giving death threats to a Korean critic who said it wasn’t all that great. The premise is that no matter how shitty the product, Koreans would support it if it was Korean.

Apple burst that bubble.

Koreans were smarter and savvier than Samsung and LG anticipated. The people who only months before scratched their heads when I mentioned the word “iPhone” were coming up to me saying, “Do you know iPhone? Let me show you.”

It killed that myth Korean marketers had so much repeated. Korean consumers were pretty much like consumers anywhere in the world. If something’s good they want it. Nationalism be damned. (to some extent)

This was the situation that Samsung found itself in. The memos brought up during the trial that greatly influenced the jury came from this time. The memos proved they simply weren’t listening. They were so busy trying to copy Nokia that they forgot to copy Apple.

So they quickly got some iPhones, reverse engineered them, put Android on them instead of their poorly developed Bada platform–even though they had before laughed the Android developers so far out of their boardroom that they went to Google. There was a lot of crow being eaten but there was still the classic arrogance combined with the frog-in-the-well world perception that got them in trouble in the first place.

A plagiarism hypothesis or two

You see, copying is endemic in Korea. Companies have been getting away with it for so long because, really, Korea has been off the radar internationally. No one has paid attention to what Korea has been doing inside Korea, so we have generations of people brought up with the idea that copying successful companies is normal. It’s actually a virtue if it’s in the name of progressing the country or at least the family–of which some see little difference.

I’m also playing with the hypothesis that there’s a little superstition going on there as well. When, say, a pigs feet restaurant does well, other restaurants tend to open up next to it offering the exact same thing, usually at the exact same price. I’m guessing people think there’s some type of magical ju-ju about the location or some magic combination they did to become popular–other than differentiating themselves from the market by making good food.

Here’s a good example.

I received an email from a restaurant owner in Vancouver. He and his partner own a popular sandwich shop called Meat & Bread. They specialize in porchetta sandwiches. If you’re in Vancouver check them out. They’ve been featured on the Food Network, too.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lXFmSwiUo3k

He wrote saying that a restaurant in Korea was copying them. At first I thought it was some weird overreaction or conspiracy theory. Then he sent me the photographic evidence.

Porchetta MeatBread11 A Culture of Copying

Click for large size

Okay, I can sort of get copying a successful restaurant’s concept and recipe (though it’s still not right). But copying their interior, their serving style, their menu, their logo, and even incorporating their name (“Meat & Bread”) in the logo?

I’m sure the Korean version of this restaurant is good, but do they have to copy it that shamelessly? Is it some superstitious good luck charm? There’s a difference between building on someone else’s idea and just copying someone else’s idea. In fact, many people don’t mind if you copy them if you at least just give them some credit. The Meat & Bread owner mentioned that he only wanted acknowledgement. He wasn’t interested in money or anything like that.

On top of that, when a magazine like Cookand featured this Korean restaurant in an article, they copied and pasted the entire article on their blog, which is highly unethical in web publishing.

Cultural Stockholm Syndrome

I’ve gotten the reaction from folks, “What’s wrong? People do it all the time.”

Just because a lot of people do it doesn’t make it right. Just because other countries do it doesn’t make it right. I think we have all become so jaded from seeing this all the time. I’m guilty of the same. It’s cultural Stockholm Syndrome. We’ve gotten so accustomed to Korea that we’re making excuses for what really is bad behavior. Not cultural differences. Bad behavior.

Actually, my business partner Ms. Kang is upset. She says that this has nothing to do with cultural differences. She grew up in Korea and has occasionally lived overseas. She says that even though Korea has become powerful and successful, there is still a lack of confidence. It’s considered safe to copy. No one teaches in schools that copying is wrong. It’s not considered stealing when one copies someone else’s hard work, be it a restaurant menu and design, a magazine article, or a smartphone.

She told me a story of lifestyle magazine writers and editors getting together in hotel restaurants with a bunch of foreign lifestyle magazines, looking at them not for inspiration, but finding articles to steal and paste and photos to mimic.

Benchmarking Korea-style

An English corporate jargon term has become common in Korean business. Benchmarking. Yet when I am involved with meetings or such when Koreans use that word, they don’t mean it by the original sense of looking at a prime example in a field and testing your product against it. It means looking at a prime example in a field and figuring out how to copy it.

That’s one reason there are a lot of Korean movie posters that look exactly like Hollywood movie posters. Producers and movie companies go to the designers, or the designers show them some examples of other posters, and the suits find a poster they like and want something exactly like that. They don’t want something in that style. They want that movie poster.

A friend of mine told me a story of a job his company did for Samsung. They were creating a website, and the website company was outsourcing my friend’s company for some translation. Samsung later found out that the web design company was outsourcing and then got directly involved. The Samsung guy in charge wanted to use terms that were distinctly Apple’s. They were trying to copy Apple’s website and jargon even though many of those terms were unique to Apple. My friend gently told the quite arrogant Samsung manager that he couldn’t do that. Shrugged him off. The project itself was eventually dropped but not because Samsung was again blatantly copying Apple even against dire warnings.

The K-Pop industry also goes by this model. Check out this list of twenty plagiarized songs. Video blogger Michael Aronson points out a recent example of IU and Fiestar’s “Sea of Moonlight” doing a variation of A-ha’s “Take on Me” and passing it off as an original. And you’d think that IU’s handlers would have learned from the last time. While you’re at it, check out this video, which a Korean court ruled copied a scene from “Final Fantasy VII.”

Plagiarism as usual

It’s the way business is done in Korea. Japanese and Chinese tourists come here not for the sites but for the imitation Gucci handbags. High school students copy on exams. College students plagiarize their papers from the internet. Professors plagiarize their papers from their undergrads. One of the biggest frustrations I hear from foreign faculty in Korean universities is the amount of unabashed and unashamed plagiarism that goes on. Students really don’t know how to write for themselves. There have been swaths of scandals of people in high positions being caught with forged university degrees (then they use the foreigner distraction). I’ve heard the excuse that in Confucian tradition, students are supposed to copy their teachers and not do anything that involves critical thought. But teachers copying students?

Beyond the fake Louis Vuittons, piracy has also been unapologetic. And it’s bitten Korea in the butt. Because Korea was so notorious for piracy Nintendo made it so that only games made for Korean systems could be played in Korea. No one could pirate games from other countries and sell them in Korea. Which was just a band-aid solution. Buy a Wii at Yongsan Electronics Market, and they ask you if you want it modded to break through this system as casually as if they ask if you want an extended warranty.

This all said, I’m glad that Samsung did get its posterior in gear after the 2009 iPhone disaster. The Galaxy S may be an outright copy of the iPhone 3Gs, but the Galaxy series are wonderful phones. I’m hoping that this verdict has similar results in again shaking up Samsung’s corporate culture (I hadn’t mentioned the masses of executive firings at Samsung and LG after the 2009 iPhone disaster). I wish they’d head on over to Hongdae and pick up some of those talented Hongik University grads so we can really see what really great Korean designers can do.

In the meantime, I’ll sip on my Starpreya or JJ Bean JJ Caffe latte and Kicker candy bar, listening to G-Dragon’s “Heartbreaker” or maybe some Lee Hyori while shopping at TOMMYATKINS and maybe hang out with my friends at Chanel Business Club, the BMW Noraebang, or the Popeye Chicken Hof.

Popeye1 A Culture of Copying

Credit: Andrew Barbour

NOTE: Feel free to upload pics of more examples in the comments. I’ve also started a little Tumblr blog called Corea Copies to share examples we find.

APPENDIX

If you wish to protect your trademark in Korea, this PDF may be of some use to you.

How to Protect a Trademark in Korea by Jay Young-June Yang

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ZenKimchi

Author: ZenKimchi

Joe McPherson founded ZenKimchi in 2004. He has been featured and sourced in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, CNN, KBS, MBC, SBS, Le Figaro, Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia, Harper’s Bazaar Korea, The Chosun Weekly, and other Korean and international media. He has consulted for The Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern,” Lonely Planet, and the PBS documentary series “Kimchi Chronicles.” Mr. McPherson has written for multiple Korean and international publications, including SEOUL Magazine, JoongAng Daily, The Korea Herald, Newsweek Korea and wrote the feature article for U.S. National publication Plate magazine’s all-Korean food issue. He has acted as dining editor for 10 Magazine and was on the judging panel for Korea for the Miele Guide. He spoke at TEDx Seoul on Korean food globalization, at TED Worldwide Talent Search on the rise of Korean cuisine, and in New York City on Korean Buddhist temple cuisine. The company ZenKimchi International organizes food tours for tourists and corporations and acts as a media liaison for foreign and Korean media and local restaurants and producers.

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64 Comments

  1. Nice piece, Joe. Thing is

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    • Interesting. Peeps love their i-Products. I have a Samsung Galaxy phone, Samsung laptop, and an iPad. Love all three.

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  2. Nice piece, Joe. Thing is though, some of my students took Apple’s side. That shocked me.

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    • Interesting. Peeps love their i-Products. I have a Samsung Galaxy phone, Samsung laptop, and an iPad. Love all three.

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  3. Fair observations and the culture of copying is indeed endemic in Korea. However, with regards to the Apple v Samsung case, the criticism of the jury is fair. The speed of the verdict and its extremely one-sided nature indicate lack of understanding of the issues.

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    • Agreed. I keep reading that the memo was the bit that wrapped it so quickly. And that the jury was doing a lot of work deciphering everything during the months of the hearings.

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  4. Fair observations and the culture of copying is indeed endemic in Korea. However, with regards to the Apple v Samsung case, the criticism of the jury is fair. The speed of the verdict and its extremely one-sided nature indicate lack of understanding of the issues.

    Post a Reply
    • Agreed. I keep reading that the memo was the bit that wrapped it so quickly. And that the jury was doing a lot of work deciphering everything during the months of the hearings.

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  5. For a while, just about every coffee chain around here (and you know that number is big) had a logo that resembled the Starbucks logo. These days, some day and some don’t. Also, a bunch of them still have variations of the word “frappaccino” on their menus. I was going to do a video about that at one point.

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  6. For a while, just about every coffee chain around here (and you know that number is big) had a logo that resembled the Starbucks logo. These days, some day and some don’t. Also, a bunch of them still have variations of the word “frappaccino” on their menus. I was going to do a video about that at one point.

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  7. yep. you exactly right. they copy and do it all the time and think it is ok. the funny things is that koreans will never tell their people that they copied. i see it all the time, from ads to music and movies or korean dramas. they live and breathe the american culture. it is ok to do so but they have to acknowledge it at least.

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  8. yep. you exactly right. they copy and do it all the time and think it is ok. the funny things is that koreans will never tell their people that they copied. i see it all the time, from ads to music and movies or korean dramas. they live and breathe the american culture. it is ok to do so but they have to acknowledge it at least.

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    • How much more condescending can it get? Well you’re just a nation of worthless copycats with absolutely no originality whatsoever regarding dramas, ads, and music but hey it’s fine- just admit it.

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    • And the majority of the brilliant and original ideas that the evil shameless Koreans aren’t even original in the first place. And do tell, how many nations brazenly admit to plagerism when it happens on their soil. Very few from what I can tell. Why not just scream at Koreans for copying rice because it travelled from Mongolia to China before it hit Korea, then Japan. If we’re going to start rebuking everyone for “copying”, it’ll be a very tiresome process.

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  9. I’d stick to food. The jury in the Apple Samsung case:
    1. failed to follow the court’s instructions about prior art and misunderstood the meaning of prior art
    2. failed to follow the court’s instructions on damages and misunderstood how damages were to be awarded
    3. By their own admission, failed to read the courts instructions
    4. Initially awarded damages for products they found to be non-infringing.

    And
    the jury foreman, who was a patent holder, and supposedly “educated”
    the rest of the jury, is the most at fault here. This decision, like
    rotten food, will be thrown out on appeal because it’s garbage.

    Most of Apple’s patents are design patents. Apple has very few
    technical patents on the technologies that make up their products. In fact Samsung makes a lot of the technology that goes into Apple’s products.
    And Samsung owns a truckload of technical patents.

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  10. I’d stick to food. The jury in the Apple Samsung case:
    1. failed to follow the court’s instructions about prior art and misunderstood the meaning of prior art
    2. failed to follow the court’s instructions on damages and misunderstood how damages were to be awarded
    3. By their own admission, failed to read the courts instructions
    4. Initially awarded damages for products they found to be non-infringing.

    And
    the jury foreman, who was a patent holder, and supposedly “educated”
    the rest of the jury, is the most at fault here. This decision, like
    rotten food, will be thrown out on appeal because it’s garbage.

    Most of Apple’s patents are design patents. Apple has very few
    technical patents on the technologies that make up their products. In fact Samsung makes a lot of the technology that goes into Apple’s products.
    And Samsung owns a truckload of technical patents.

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        • Okay. Read. Interesting stuff, much what I had already heard before. A lot of technical nerdpicking that distracted from the heart of the case–the intent to copy. The main influence on the jury was the intent to copy. It’s like if O.J. recording a message saying, “I’m going to kill Nicole tonight,” and legal nerds bickering if the glove fit or not.

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          • The intent to copy is irrelevant if they didn’t actually copy under the law. Call it an intent to mimic. Many companies, all over the world mimic. They release similar features on things like cars, appliances, mp3 players, phones, etc. The fact is a lot of prior art exists for the patents Apple is claiming, and they shouldn’t have won anywhere near as much more or as many points. When it is properly analyzed you may find that only 1 or 2 of their patents were valid (then there is a discussion of whether or not they should have been able to even patent those in the first place)

          • Eun Jeong Lee

            Good points. I do believe the intent to copy is quite relevant if I remember anything from studying intellectual property law in college, along with the transcripts where Google discouraged Samsung from copying certain elements and comparisons of the smartphone Samsung was working on just before the iPhone arrived in Korea with the Galaxy S that came out a few months after its introduction. I was hoping that the other anecdote in my post highlighted a sliver of the culture inside Samsung, which rhymed with the attitudes of the Google meeting, that shameless mimicking was the cultural norm until Apple sued them.

  11. Taeyang Yoon

    As one of the writers of ZenKimchi, and with the risk of sounding like an Korea-apologist, my opinion varies a little bit from Joe’s.

    I currently use an iPhone and a Galaxy Tab. I also had owned an iPad and a Galaxy S phone. Apple did not invent the touchscreen phone, iconography based home screen, nor the swipe to unlock technology. Apple is being protected by some outdated US Patent laws that grant Apple patents on technologies that already has existing prior art. http://9gag.com/gag/5195630?ref=fb.s

    At the same time, I’m not suggesting that Samsung did the right thing here either. With almost unlimited resources at their disposal, they decided to copy some of iPhone features without improving on them (some of it is Android/Google issue, not Samsung). Also, the restaurants and music copying each other happens all the time all over the world.

    Some other possible ‘plagarisms’:
    - Daimler Benz invented the automobile, what does that make Henry Ford?
    - Office Depot and OfficeMax?
    - Countless instances of Japanese automakers copying other makes (Lexus LS 400, Mazda RX-7, Datsun Fairlady Roadster, etc…)
    - Korean Kimchi and Soju – Japanese Kimuchi and Sochu

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    • Eun Jeong Lee

      True. As I said, though, just because others do it doesn’t make it right. I think the reason this post has been shared so much, and looking at the comments when people share it, indicates that Korea does go a bit overboard and copying is never taught to be a bad thing. Apple and some of the other examples you’ve listed have been brought to task for ripping off others. I’m afraid that in Korea, shaming folks for copying just doesn’t happen unless it’s an outsider doing the copying.

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      • Eun Jeong Lee

        Another example you should add to your list, though, is this guy who is ripping off ZenKimchi, including your recipes. The posts are shorter now because I’ve truncated the feed to thwart him. But he’s been slowly creeping up the Google searches for stealing our posts.
        http://oishi-desu.blogspot.kr/

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        • That’s a scraper blog. It in fact scrapes several blogs for content using various feed services. It’s basically little more than a bot, and not likely run by a Korean. Name is Japanese, the user name doesn’t remotely look Korean.

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          • Eun Jeong Lee

            Yes, I’m aware it’s a scraper blog. A little digging revealed it may come from Southeast Asia.

    • Your iPhone point is good but Daimlar Benz and Ford are simply in the same industry, this is not plagiarism. Cars are superficially grouped into categories and have so much tech and IP under the hood to differentiate products. The Japanese are clearly industry leaders here. The kimuchi example is not a passoff, it’s just the Japanese spelling. Distilling is Persian in origin and Shochu has been made in Japan since the Azuchi-Momoyama period, definitely not plagiarism. Therefore I think we do need to clarify what we mean by this term so we are on the same page.

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  12. Eun Jeong Lee

    True. As I said, though, just because others do it doesn’t make it right. I think the reason this post has been shared so much, and looking at the comments when people share it, indicates that Korea does go a bit overboard and copying is never taught to be a bad thing. Apple and some of the other examples you’ve listed have been brought to task for ripping off others. I’m afraid that in Korea, shaming folks for copying just doesn’t happen unless it’s an outsider doing the copying.

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    • Eun Jeong Lee

      Another example you should add to your list, though, is this guy who is ripping off ZenKimchi, including your recipes. The posts are shorter now because I’ve truncated the feed to thwart him. But he’s been slowly creeping up the Google searches for stealing our posts.
      http://oishi-desu.blogspot.kr/

      Post a Reply
      • That’s a scraper blog. It in fact scrapes several blogs for content using various feed services. It’s basically little more than a bot, and not likely run by a Korean. Name is Japanese, the user name doesn’t remotely look Korean.

        Post a Reply
        • Eun Jeong Lee

          Yes, I’m aware it’s a scraper blog. A little digging revealed it may come from Southeast Asia.

          Post a Reply
  13. Agreed with the blatant copying as far as storefronts and brand names go (although this isn’t just a Korea phenomenon, but all of Asia, especially China, and even in Japan you can hardly go 10 meters without seeing a Starbucks copy). Also give the Chinese and Japanese tourists a little credit, they’re also here for plastic surgery. After all they can get the Gucci knockoffs cheaper in Hong Kong.

    On the Samsung front, while I certainly have criticisms, I wouldn’t level them quite as harshly. The “fast follower” approach is a valid starting off point for a new tech product and while they definitely crossed the line with the first generation, Samsung has quickly grown and arguably even surpassed Apple with phones that hardly could be called copies. Also the jury in the US trial was a farce, plain and simple. As I think someone else mentioned, the foreman “educating” other jurors is blatantly disallowed by the court as is the jury awarding damages as punishment, which they have freely admitted they did, rather than compensation. This was stated clearly (twice) in the jury instructions they didn’t bother to read, so really the whole thing should get thrown out,

    This doesn’t completely excuse Samsung though, but I’m willing to give them credit for trying to get better. Also, to use a classroom analogy, I would have more sympathy for the kid copying a few answers to pass the test over the kid trying to burn everyone else’s tests just to make sure he gets the best score.

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  14. Agreed with the blatant copying as far as storefronts and brand names go (although this isn’t just a Korea phenomenon, but all of Asia, especially China, and even in Japan you can hardly go 10 meters without seeing a Starbucks copy). Also give the Chinese and Japanese tourists a little credit, they’re also here for plastic surgery. After all they can get the Gucci knockoffs cheaper in Hong Kong.

    On the Samsung front, while I certainly have criticisms, I wouldn’t level them quite as harshly. The “fast follower” approach is a valid starting off point for a new tech product and while they definitely crossed the line with the first generation, Samsung has quickly grown and arguably even surpassed Apple with phones that hardly could be called copies. Also the jury in the US trial was a farce, plain and simple. As I think someone else mentioned, the foreman “educating” other jurors is blatantly disallowed by the court as is the jury awarding damages as punishment, which they have freely admitted they did, rather than compensation. This was stated clearly (twice) in the jury instructions they didn’t bother to read, so really the whole thing should get thrown out,

    This doesn’t completely excuse Samsung though, but I’m willing to give them credit for trying to get better. Also, to use a classroom analogy, I would have more sympathy for the kid copying a few answers to pass the test over the kid trying to burn everyone else’s tests just to make sure he gets the best score.

    Post a Reply
  15. If you’d care for an example from the world of fashion, try this experiment: First of all, go to any branch of Zara. There are lots of them around, being as they are something of a foreign-incursion success story, owing, no doubt, to their ability to supply reasonable fashion products at a reasonable price and to adapt to changing tastes and trends very quickly. When you’re in there, don’t just take note of the clothing; note also the signage, the decor, the lighting, the layout, the staff uniforms, and the music they pipe in. Know also that you won’t have been the first to do so.

    How so? Well, at some point in their history, someone has visited Zara and taken careful notes of all of the above, and reported their findings to the Korean chain Mixxo (pronounced ‘mi-so’ for reasons no linguist could ever explain). From these findings, Mixxo have created their own stores, copied almost exactly to the letter. Mixxo stores are usually to be found wherever there is a Zara, and if I took you in blindfolded, you might only have the quality of the clothing to go by to tell one from the other. Mixxo have blatantly and shamelessly coped Zara in a way that in any other country would have had them dragged into court almost as soon as the doors opened on day one. It’s not ‘people like Zara, let’s try to model their success’; it’s ‘people like Zara, let’s copy every single element of their store design and business model down to the finest detail’.

    They must have employed designers to achieve this, and these designers must have actively created a whole identity system that they knew full well was nothing but a slavish rip-off of another designer’s work. This is where I feel the anger most keenly, for design is my own area, and to see designers behave with such disdain for their colleagues’ achievements makes me fear for their souls. Although I have no love for Apple (in fact, I fucking hate Apple and all the po-faced smuggery that they inflict upon the world), and although I don’t think that the court victory they won last week was achieved on fair terms, I’m rather glad that Samsung has received the spanking that it has, for it sends a message to all Korean designers: Sort it the fuck out!

    Post a Reply
  16. If you’d care for an example from the world of fashion, try this experiment: First of all, go to any branch of Zara. There are lots of them around, being as they are something of a foreign-incursion success story, owing, no doubt, to their ability to supply reasonable fashion products at a reasonable price and to adapt to changing tastes and trends very quickly. When you’re in there, don’t just take note of the clothing; note also the signage, the decor, the lighting, the layout, the staff uniforms, and the music they pipe in. Know also that you won’t have been the first to do so.

    How so? Well, at some point in their history, someone has visited Zara and taken careful notes of all of the above, and reported their findings to the Korean chain Mixxo (pronounced ‘mi-so’ for reasons no linguist could ever explain). From these findings, Mixxo have created their own stores, copied almost exactly to the letter. Mixxo stores are usually to be found wherever there is a Zara, and if I took you in blindfolded, you might only have the quality of the clothing to go by to tell one from the other. Mixxo have blatantly and shamelessly coped Zara in a way that in any other country would have had them dragged into court almost as soon as the doors opened on day one. It’s not ‘people like Zara, let’s try to model their success’; it’s ‘people like Zara, let’s copy every single element of their store design and business model down to the finest detail’.

    They must have employed designers to achieve this, and these designers must have actively created a whole identity system that they knew full well was nothing but a slavish rip-off of another designer’s work. This is where I feel the anger most keenly, for design is my own area, and to see designers behave with such disdain for their colleagues’ achievements makes me fear for their souls. Although I have no love for Apple (in fact, I fucking hate Apple and all the po-faced smuggery that they inflict upon the world), and although I don’t think that the court victory they won last week was achieved on fair terms, I’m rather glad that Samsung has received the spanking that it has, for it sends a message to all Korean designers: Sort it the fuck out!

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    • Okay. Read. Interesting stuff, much what I had already heard before. A lot of technical nerdpicking that distracted from the heart of the case–the intent to copy. The main influence on the jury was the intent to copy. It’s like if O.J. recording a message saying, “I’m going to kill Nicole tonight,” and legal nerds bickering if the glove fit or not.

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      • The intent to copy is irrelevant if they didn’t actually copy under the law. Call it an intent to mimic. Many companies, all over the world mimic. They release similar features on things like cars, appliances, mp3 players, phones, etc. The fact is a lot of prior art exists for the patents Apple is claiming, and they shouldn’t have won anywhere near as much more or as many points. When it is properly analyzed you may find that only 1 or 2 of their patents were valid (then there is a discussion of whether or not they should have been able to even patent those in the first place)

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        • Eun Jeong Lee

          Good points. I do believe the intent to copy is quite relevant if I remember anything from studying intellectual property law in college, along with the transcripts where Google discouraged Samsung from copying certain elements and comparisons of the smartphone Samsung was working on just before the iPhone arrived in Korea with the Galaxy S that came out a few months after its introduction. I was hoping that the other anecdote in my post highlighted a sliver of the culture inside Samsung, which rhymed with the attitudes of the Google meeting, that shameless mimicking was the cultural norm until Apple sued them.

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  17. Just this weekend I saw someone wearing a shirt that said “Abercrombie and Filth.”
    Does this count?
    (I don’t think the person had any idea just how awesome the shirt was.)

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  18. Just this weekend I saw someone wearing a shirt that said “Abercrombie and Filth.”
    Does this count?
    (I don’t think the person had any idea just how awesome the shirt was.)

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  19. I am very glad you wrote this article. You bring up the most important point about Korea that anyone can make in the 21st century. It isn’t Korea anymore. Korean culture and heritage is in danger of extinction. Here’s why:

    After the occupation by Japanese forces, along with the split between the two Koreas, South Korea, in order to rebound from decades of hardship and oppression, almost entirely became dependent on U.S. and Western powers for growth. Companies like Samsung, LG used to produce goods like toilet paper and raw metals. Thanks to the infusion of U.S.-aid, Korea has become the Asia superpower of today.

    But at huge cost. In order to turn a war-torn country into an economic superpower in 50 years, the identity of the nation was sacrificed. The nation embraced complete Westernization, copying the American ideals and values and throwing away so much of its own. A system was created from huge conglomerates like Hyundai, Samsung, LG, SK group, etc. These companies control the government (developmental issues such as education, etc.), the music industry (K-pop, the perfect example of Westernization), the restaurants, the coffee…

    It’s a huge price to pay as the true cost cannot be measured by money, but by the loss of cultural identity. Some say the economic boost was worth it, but I disagree. Most Koreans brought up in the system are pressured since birth to succeed financially, and the education is entirely test-based. Individual freedom and choice is very limited because it’s the entire system that’s the problem. And at the end of the day, Korea is one of the most unhappy countries in the world (it’s been surveyed) and the gap between rich and poor remain.

    Korea has become a nation of copycats because that is what the country is based on. Copying America in order to gain economic stability and power.

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  20. Even Chinese foods in Korea have been copied decades ago and changed to Koreanized. Also Japanese food such as sushi(cho-bap) and maki(Kimbab) have been Koreanized in Korea as well. Some says, in other words, these have been fusionized to local style, but I hate fusionized foods. But if you go to Japan, or Hong Kong, most foreign foods are not copied. In Hong Kong, there are so many restaurants that run by many foreigners. But in Korea, even pizzas are copied and changed to Korean style recipe. Do you realize how serious situation they are in? I think Korean government should have to get involve on this, otherwise copying will never stop in Korea.

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