But more to the point. For those of you who are completely uninformed, most of the product that we buy comes from China. And the Chinese have much less restriction in their legal system to protect copyrights and patents, and prevent copy-cats. And that which is law isn't really enforced. They fail to recognize patents and copyrights held pretty much anywhere in the world. My wife just bought a near perfect Louis Vuitton for $25 at a local online garage sale that was purchased by the original owner in San Francisco (I'm likely stereotyping, but probably Chinatown.) So the copycat trend certainly isn't limited to mods in vaping, but is applicable to many name brand products.
I'd like to point something out. This isn't driven by an evil business empire over there that thrills at the thought of stealing Americans' products. (Don't get me wrong. They enjoy their GDP increasing.) But the Chinese do not copy our products and sit there and think "Oh man, am I screwing those guys over." It never enters their thought process. Why? Because in the world of business culture, they don't see value in intellectual property. It's not that they are cheating the game. It's more that they are playing a different game entirely. Let me explain.
Here are the two games:
American business model: "Highest quality, coolest product wins. And if they are the inventor and take the initiative to file a patent, then their design is protected in the U.S. for a period of time."
Chinese business model: "First product to market and/or sale at lowest price wins. Period."
And there are PROFOUND ramifications of these two models that are both impacted by the cultural values of both cultures as well as affected by other outside influences.
I'd like to use a radically different example to show just how insidious our own model can be and why one isn't necessarily better....they are just different. It is legally mandated in the United States that when a drug company creates a brand new drug that that company has a number of years to sell it exclusively before it is open to "generics." This legal protection, in theory, allows the drug manufacturer to recoup his cost of research and development before the market turns into the wild west. But think about that for a minute. If Pfizer develops a radical cure for cancer tomorrow, that means that they have years in which to allow people who can't afford to pay $320,000 for treatment to, well, simply die. In our American culture, we tend to look at that and say "that's the way of it." But in other cultures around the world, they'd view that reality as ghastly. Sure, they have to recoup R&D money, but drug companies are profit machines with few bigger examples. There are cultures where the thought of massive profits from life and death benefits is a moral issue. Here in the U.S., it is seemingly just business.
I realize that a cure for cancer and a cloned vaping device are very different things, but the point is that other cultures don't understand the tendency for Americans to want to protect the underdog business. Or any business for that matter. It's not personal. It's just that protection of business rights is a very American value. And the Chinese tend to see it as little more than American arrogance. I don't see it that way, but often believe that we tend to protect business rights in this country more profoundly than we do personal rights...to a fault. But aside from politics. More importantly...
YOU are likely a hypocrite.
I hate to say it, but we all are. I shop at a little family-owned grocery store in town that I love because their wine selection is fantastic and their meat is all locally sourced from Texas beef. I'm in this store at least once a week to grab stuff. But my monthly big grocery stockpiles are done at Wal Mart Supercenter and Sam's Club. Sure. Those are "American Brands," but those Wal Mart and Sam's Clubs certainly don't discriminate on who they buy from. There is equally as much foreign product there as there is domestically produced. And the bigger point, Wal Mart is the textbook opposite of an underdog. Their business model is closer to the Chinese (low price leader) than it is to the American model (quality product).
So WHAT exactly is the real issue here?
Look. I'm not defending the Chinese. Nor am I defending the American business culture. I'm simply explaining that from a business sense, it isn't really a "right and wrong" scenario. It's simply a different set of goals. Me personally? I don't discriminate against either one. I don't assume that one model is necessarily better than the other.
So you've got this average American dude, Jim. He is probably going to have an uphill climb growing his mod company fast enough to beat the Chinese at the way that they play this game. Jim will have to adopt some of their techniques in order to "win." He'll need to keep his design a complete secret until his first 1000 units are available for sale. And he'll need to invest in some marketing to move those units quickly. Then he'll need to move on rapidly to his next mod design and repeat his success. He will likely have a window of exclusivity of about 3-6 months. Maybe more. Maybe less. But Jim CAN be successful.
Here's a BIG BUT!
BUT, you can play this game the other way around too. An American company, Beyond Vape, actually copied a Chinese made mod (the Sigelei ZMax) in their production of their Spire Mod. They took a pretty good mod (the ZMax) and engineered better solutions to some of its common problems (like a faulty switch button) and are producing a new mod that is an AMERICAN CLONE of a Chinese device. How novel. And guess what? The Chinese aren't the least bit upset by it. So if, like me, you love the Sigelei Zmax, but want a higher quality product, spend a little extra money and buy the Spire. It gets even more confusing when you find out that Beyond Vape is having a Chinese producer actually do the production on the Spire, but it does go to show that the game works both ways.
The only alternative to the cloning situation is to create a mod or use a technology that is so radically complex that it is difficult to duplicate. Zen from House of Hybrids said in an interview with Phil Bussardo that cloning really didn't impact his profit margin all that much. But it is only fair to say that his designs are pretty hard to clone. And he has used the DNA20 and DNA30 chips in many of them to date. Now that China has replicated the DNA30, it is likely that we'll soon see a clone of the ZNA mod. A clone of the DNA30 Hana Mod is going nuts in presales right now. I'm not sure whether Zen will change his tune as a result of this, but he has played his cards very wisely.
And let's face it, there will always be guys who are willing to pay the premium for the REAL DEAL. Just like there are more than enough women willing to pay the premium for the real Louis bag. In my opinion, there is more than enough room in the marketplace for both the originals and the clones. And there will be some American companies that go out of business because they simply don't have the resources or didn't play the game well enough to beat the Chinese. Is that fair? I don't know. Maybe it's not. But the rules of this type of business game are not exactly a secret. And American mod makers can spend their time bitching about it. Or they can focus on their next brilliant mod design and continue to grow their companies fast enough to stay ahead in the clone wars.
I'd like the end this rambling series of thoughts on cloning with an unrelated example. Folks, we are living in a different world than we were 30 years ago. Thanks to NAFTA and 100 other free trade agreements, our government has radically boosted the global economy (at the very real expense of our own.) Love it or hate it, that's fact. The reason that Wal Mart can offer you the lowest prices guaranteed is because of their ability to source much lower-cost-of-production products from countries with no minimum wages and lower quality control. It simply is what it is. And we can bitch about it all we want, but we vote with our dollars. And most of the folks that I know that bitch most vociferously about not "buying American" can often be found parked in front of their local Wal Mart every Sunday afternoon buying their weekly rations.
When I was working on my grad degree, I spent one course dealing entirely with nothing but how cultural values affect global business. And it all got me thinking about the profoundly stupid concept of "Buy American." If I were to ask any average guy what car to buy if I wanted an "American car," I'd get a short list of answers: Ford, Chevy, Dodge, etc. But if you want a TRULY American-made car, you need to look to BMW or Honda. Many of their vehicles are produced in radically American places like Ohio and Georgia. In contrast, Ford and GM both utilize production of parts and vehicles from Mexico, Canada, and many other nations. So should I consider a company "American" just based on where it started? Or where its CEO lives?
I provide that example not because I think it has much of anything to do with the issue of patent infringement or cloning....but to simply illustrate that we DO live in a very different world. And if we're going to talk about issues like cloning fairly, we have to really step back and think about the fact that this is no longer an "us vs. them" issue. The Chinese are really good at low-cost production. But they are years if not decades behind in engineering and design. That is the likely the biggest reason for so much copying. The BBC Top Gear dudes went to China to check out their cars and found tons of copied designs. But they also saw a few new models that weren't based on copying. And they believe that it is only a matter of a few years before the Chinese are designing and building cars for the global market that rival European made autos. That's quite a statement. It stands to reason that we may see many more Chinese companies producing even more exciting mods in the future that are also not copies.
But as with my wife who can't afford a $2200 Louis Vuitton, there are thousands of people who simply could never afford a hand-made American device. Should they be denied the benefits of vaping on a reasonably nice looking mod just because they don't have $300 to plunk down on one? Surely some believe yes. They are quite vocal about it on Facebook.
Should you judge all the folks like me who have a small collection of cloned devices? I'll let you decide next time you drive your Ford truck right past the mom & pop grocery store and pull it into your local Wal Mart.