Is IPR Just Another Word for Unfair Competition?
The setting is absurd, and it is doubtable whether this story could play anywhere outside Germany or the U.S.
German newsweekly 'Der Spiegel' reports in its online edition that around 20,000 eBay buyers of would be iPod nano lookalikes from China have waited for their merchandise in vein over the last weeks. Instead, what they received was a letter from their local customs office who had apparently confiscated the hardware on behalf of Apple who had complained that the Chinese hardware looked too similar to their iPod Nano (apparently, at least to Apple's taste).
The precedent is interesting but by no means the first all but limitless excess by the German authorities in their heroic struggle for intellectual property rights. Recently, on the CeBIT computer fair in Hanover, German authorities used the 'good' opportunity of having Chinese producers present at the fair to search booths and confiscate hardware that allegedly infringed intellectual property rights in the codec-technology.
Sidestepping for a moment the material merits of the allegations, the radical "Blitzkrieg" like escalation of this conflict at the expense of consumers seems to usher in a new age of a struggle against IPR infringement, maybe best described with "all is fair in love and war".
The assumption seems not too far fetched that vendors like Apple have discovered IPR as an inexpensive and very efficient way to keep competitors from Asia out of what they might see as their markets. Looking at photos of the devices, 'Der Spiegel' published in its Wednesday online edition, it becomes clear that consumers would very well be able to discern the incriminated products from real iPods, all the more that they bear a clear brand sign that is not Apple's.
Bring in the comparatively miserable value for money proposition in the history of Apple's Nano product line and the tables apparently turn significantly: Is IPR just an acronym for protecting inferior products at a superior price from serious competition, and need public authorities make themselves part of corporate agendas to seal off markets, taking advantage of the IPR-hysteria which has obviously taken over large parts of the Western World?