Fake Apple Watches have gone on sale in China, beating the real thing to the market by at least a month. According to a report by the Financial Times, Apple Watch lookalikes have been all over the Chinese online marketplace Taobao since last month, with some of the watches looking nearly identical to the Apple Watch, which is set to launch on April 24th. According to a statement from Apple, China and Hong Kong customers can pre-order the watch beginning on April 10, the same day it takes orders in the United States, Japan, Britain, France and Germany.
Taobao, a subsidiary of the Chinese e-commerce giant, Alibaba, which went public on the New York Stock Exchange in September 2014 and became the biggest ever IPO at $25 billion, is offering a wide variety of fake Apple Watches - from the entry level, Apple Sport watch to the $12,000 gold Apple Watch Edition. Prices are said to mimic the real thing is some cases (a classic tactic of counterfeiters, who aim to confuse purchasers as to the authenticity of the product). Others, however, can be purchased for as low as 259 Yuan, which is about $40.
Interestingly, while some of the watches are being marketed as "Apple Watch lookalikes", others are blatant counterfeits, meaning that they bear a trademark that is identical to or substantially indistinguishable from the brand owner's trademark for the same class of goods, without authorization from the trademark owner (obviously). For Apple, this means that Chinese sellers are offering watches that not only mimic the design and style of the Apple Watches but also bear Apple trademarks. [For the legally curious, all counterfeits are infringements but not all infringements are counterfeits. Infringing marks include a broader class of marks -- aka those that are "confusingly similar" to the genuine mark. The test for counterfeit marks is stricter as it requires marks to be "substantially indistinguishable" from a genuine mark to be deemed counterfeit and thus, allows for additional remedies for the trademark owner].
Given the immense interest surrounding the Apple Watch, particularly in China, where it landed a Vogue cover and lengthy spread in the publication's November 2014 issue, it should come as little surprise that it is the target of intense copying. In case that's not enough, China's rapid and inexpensive manufacturing capabilities paired with the relatively casual nature of counterfeiting (and intellectual property protection in general) makes it a market for destined to be saturated with fakes. According to CNN's Shen Lu, Felicia Wong and Vivian Kam, "The early availability of knockoffs underscores the speed at which Chinese 'shanghai,' or counterfeiters, are able to design and bring fakes to market. In this case, their products are on the street even before Apple's."
This recent flurry of fakes on Taobao also sheds light on the online market place's duty to police fakes. As indicated by the lawsuits filed by luxury brands, including Saint Laurent and Gucci parent company, Kering, this is something it has come under for in the past. Moreover, in January, a Chinese government agency accused Alibaba of lax oversight, thereby, allowing vendors to sell counterfeit goods on Taobao. When asked whether it had taken action against any sellers of fake Apple Watches, Alibaba, Taobao's parent company, said in a statement, “Alibaba Group is dedicated to the fight against counterfeits. We work closely with our government partners, brands and industry associations to tackle this issue at its source. We also utilize technology like data mining and big data to scrub our platforms of counterfeits.” Regardless of such efforts, its safe to say you shouldn't be expecting to purchase authentic Apple Watches on Taobao now or ever.