Can a LEGO boss identify copycat products?

Posted by ,

The problem of clone brands and copycat products is featured in a short BBC news video this morning.

General Manager of LEGO's Asia manufacturing Richard Wong is given two minifigs and asked which one is real LEGO and which is not.

He only gives them a cursory glance but, well, you can probably guess the outcome...

Thanks to derfliw for the news.

 

Sponsored content

35 comments on this article

Gravatar
By in Denmark,

Well give the man some time, i would maybe not be right within 10 seconds.
But after a more in dept look, i might.

Gravatar
By in Ireland,

Saw it on BBC Breakfast this morning. Shame their studio 'expert' knew nothing about the case that LEGO are building against LEPIN and was only talking in vague terms about copyright protection.

Gravatar
By in United Kingdom,

The version of this I saw at about 7.48 am was much longer - the best part of ten minutes long. It included footage of Chinese parents and their children trying to distinguish between the real and the fake LEGO minifigs (the children seemed to get it right immediately; the parents didn't get it right at all!), and a short in-studio discussion with an intellectual property rights lawyer. This fuller report doesn't seem to be on the BBC website, though.

Gravatar
By in United Kingdom,

Considering he didn't even take the minifigs apart to test the clutch on them, I think anyone could be fooled by a glance that quick. Generally most fake Lego does LOOK like Lego, but it's when you try to build with it that it's obviously not. A lot of it doesn't fit with Lego, and I've seen a lot that doesn't even fit with itself.

Gravatar
By in United Kingdom,

There is only one solution. LEGO should start selling the individual minifigs at the same prices as the counterfeiters, price them out of the marketplace. This includes those from licensed themes, I suspect even Disney would approve of this after what happened with the 71040-1 Disney Castle set.

Gravatar
By in Puerto Rico,

Some interesting things down in here, obviously it will take a lot of effort to curve counterfeiters.

Gravatar
By in Czech Republic,

CCarmichael: no company in the world can set the pricing to levels of free-riders, for very obvious reasons: they would run out of money rather soon.

Gravatar
By in United Kingdom,

Richard Wong had cursory glance at the minifigure. I think he could have worked it out if he spent longer looking. Maybe he was keen to impress with the speed which he could detect, which was his undoing.

However...

- how do we know the journalist knew what he was talking about? He might have had two fake ones, or two real ones - we've only got his word for it and trustworthy journalists are hard to come by lately.

Gravatar
By in United States,

There's a substantial difference in quality between my childhood minifigs from the 80s and the modern ones depending on where they were made. The Danish stuff was decent, while the chinese ones feel dodgy. The CMF were always particularly poor, but they've gotten slightly better in the last few waves.... I thought the Disney stuff was actually good. Expensive sets used to be a guarantee of quality minifigs, but GBHQ ones I just put together really feel on the flimsy side.

Gravatar
By in Australia,

If LEGO could match the prices of the knockoffs without sacrificing quality they would

Gravatar
By in United Kingdom,

Interesting to hear Disney's views on all of this. Surely they have an interest when someone is ripping off one of their licenses.
Why is it just left to Lego to fight this?

Gravatar
By in United States,

I think it's funny when people talk about clutch and LEGO. LEGO has made a ton of mini figures that have no clutch, that their legs are weak, that their heads come off when you just want to replace their hair.

Brikkyy, your comment is laughable.

Gravatar
By in United States,

I went to graduate school with some Chinese students. We got into a discussion in one of our biochemistry classes about discovery and intellectual property (IP). They believe the concept of IP is utterly flawed. They believe in their core that it is foolish and wrong. If someone discovers some new knowledge or IP, they believe it should be for the world to use freely. This way of thinking is no doubt a product of Communism.

My guess is that the copycat companies in China don't see this as illegal or wrong. They believe it is their right to use the IP of others in any way they see fit.

Gravatar
By in Germany,

@woosterlegos: I very much doubt that this is a product of communism. It's a very traditional Chinese thing (think Confucius) to put the interests of the community before individual interests. And it's completely in line with that logic not to limit the use of knowledge (or IP) to a few individuals or a few companies if so many more people in the community could make a living with that.

Gravatar
By in United States,

I suspected the Ninjago figure was the fake from the sketchy printing on its' face. Bottom line is always check for the Lego logo. I'm ashamed to have some knock-offs in my collection (although seperated so as not to taint the rest), which were given as a surprise gift from my mom, who is a bargain hunting shopaholic. She showed up one Sunday w/a set of 20 minifigures she "got a really good deal on" from ebay. Aside from the packaging, in which ea. piece (ea. leg, arm, etc.) were packaged seperately I instantly recognized them as knock-offs, and had to explain to her the whole knock-off industry, and to beware cheap prices of "Lego" products from China. I thought it was interesting though that ea. figure was a copy of real figs from random themes, like legs and hip from a City Cop and torso from a CMS. They're all waiting for some epic destruction, like getting strapped to an M80 or Cherry Bomb, although I may actually keep a couple of the hats.

Gravatar
By in United Kingdom,

The IP legal expert they had on the BBC Breakfast news in the studio seemed to be a bit flustered at being on camera and couldn't quite remember what she was meant to be saying, so just smiled a lot.

Gravatar
By in United States,

the goggles caught my eye right away. they are not as clean as LEGO goggles. Still journalists...

Gravatar
By in United States,

The problem is that the copycats are getting better and better, and even adding to the themes now (you can buy GoT minifigures!!!) and doing it at literally a third of the price. They are also producing out of print sets for people who missed them the first time, and custom pieces that are amazing. With that kind of temptation, even the most purist of collectors are likely to keep the pirates in business, and parents (and bargain shoppers) won't care. I'll admit that I bought my son a clone of Helm's Deep for more than $100 less than I could have got him the real set on BrickLink or eBay. It was literally the EXACT same (other than the LEGO logo) and he LOVES it. I couldn't have afforded one for him for Christmas otherwise. And it's not like non-collectors even care if the bricks aren't official LEGO. For all these reasons, there is no easy way out of the problem, and I'm personally torn. I've spent so much on official LEGO sets over the years, and so much on the aftermarket, it feels good to actually get a deal on something for once... but I don't want to hurt the LEGO brand or see it (Heaven Forbid!) go out of business. For those with limited budgets, clone brands are a tough issue.

Gravatar
By in France,

@ woosterlegos
whether it's good or not may depend on how it is used. for example science and technical fields could fall under common property as chineses believe, but artistic field would fall under IP.

that would be something like you can't copy minifigs, but any technic to make sure your own figs are made with the greatest precision are available to all and free to use.

Gravatar
By in United Kingdom,

It's all very noble to cite communism or philosophical arguments for copying other's ideas and inventions, but the fact is no-one's doing this and giving the results away - the drive is purely a capitalist one - to get rich. Just because China has a self-appointing communist government doesn't mean it's a perfectly egalitarian society. It still has its own share of greedy wannabe entrepreneurs willing to exploit anyone and anything to make a quick private pile of cash, just like any other globally trading nation.

Gravatar
By in Canada,

I knew which one was the fake one just from the graphic on the video...sad about the interviewee.

Gravatar
By in Canada,

Joefish - you couldn't be more right. Many experts argue that China is more capitalist than the United States at this point and from my experiences there, I'd agree.
Culture does play a part, though. I don't really think Chinese honestly believe that taking others' IP is not illegal or wrong, but the culture encourages the attitude of doing whatever you can get away with to get an advantage, and so it essentially doesn't matter.

Gravatar
By in Belgium,

I would think the exact purpose of a good (... I know, it's a paradox) clone brand is to be virtually indistinguishable from the original product. Personally I have no problems with other brick systems even if they are nearly identical to LEGO and/or compatible with it. I'm even quite sure they can / could produce high quality products. I do however have major problems with them blatantly copying virtually every last detail of LEGO sets. Creating things is not easy, it takes time, money and inspired people to do so ... having the results of that process copied obviously results in cheaper products. (In particular if you don't have to pay for any licence fees) If you can live with why that product is cheaper, I won't hold it against you, but personally it bothers me, perhaps because I also spend a lot of (professional) time trying to create original things.

Gravatar
By in United Kingdom,

Could someone tell me what minifig the knockoff is supposed to be?

As an aside, I heard when I was in Beijing many years ago that many counterfeit products are actually made in the same factory as the original. No idea if it's true of Lego.

Gravatar
By in United Kingdom,

Of course, if he had taken it apart to examine it closely, that would've been a problem in itself - then the story would be that the fakes are so convincing you can only spot them by taking them apart.

Gravatar
By in Australia,

This was not a fair test. There should have been two of the same minifigures (eg both of them City firefighters). I also guessed the sky pirate as fake before I saw the end and I got it right!

Happy Australia Day to my fellow Aussies!

Gravatar
By in United Kingdom,

Well that's a little embarrassing for Richard...

I saw the BBC article too and I'm pretty sure they were pushing the idea of "Even one of Lego's bosses can't tell a fake". Interestingly, they went into a Chinese shopping centre and found a stall selling Lepin Star Wnrs. The reporter asked whether it was Lepin or Lego, to which they replied emphatically 'Lego'... They even had a mini segment of 'Land Wind' the copycat company of Land Rover.

I just can't get my head around the mentality of replicating something exactly and selling it instead of the real thing. But then you could say at a stretch that people that torrent music or movies without paying for them in the West are doing something along the same lines so IP theft happens everywhere. Fortunately not much in the UK for Lego though thankfully.

Gravatar
By in United States,

Okay, so the important thing for me is how do I tell what's real and what isn't? How can we the consumpers spot fake lego Do we just keep away from Asian markets or what?

Gravatar
By in United States,

I echo Gosuke's comments to a T. I have bought a few of the knock offs because there was no way I could afford the original(s) for my son to play with. Deadpool and the Suicide Squad minifigures are happily played with and for me that's what I have to factor in when budgeting these toys. I look for deals all the time both on eBay and at local stores along with LEGO.com. That's how we got him the Millennium Falcon for Christmas this year. But yes there will be a few times where I'm going to buy the knock off. It sucks I won't lie. But we simply don't have the budget for $50 sets (or higher) and when my 7 year old asks me 'Can we get the Suicide Squad to fight Batman?' I'm not going to tell him 'Sorry about your luck, son' when I know better.

Gravatar
By in Japan,

Fun how when "Free Market" happens for REAL, everybody complains (and blames "communism"). That's what happens when you decide to move to China...
BTW, compared with my old figures from the 80's~90's, the minifigures quality now are far worse.

Gravatar
By in Czech Republic,

I have bought few copies of certain out-of-production things that are 1. virtually unaviable (I know, BL...), 2. extraordinary priced.

I quite like the view of US Supreme Court - IP rights are made to encourage artist to create. They are not absolute but proportional to that goal. For me that means that I will never buy a knock-off set that LEGO is still selling. But once the set has been abandoned by LEGO, I somewhat feel it is a fair game. The LEGO recouped and moves on - the only people I am influencing are just the resellers.

But of course on top of that I am trying to support LEGO, so all my collection is "pure". Virtually only thing I ever considered buying are the minifigs that are unobtainable at the time being.

Gravatar
By in New Zealand,

Like a boss.......

Gravatar
By in United States,

Very well said, Faire. I don't buy knock off sets (as neat as some are) but the minifigures are a bit different in some respects. Ones that are made of 'unobtanium' or too exhorberant to buy for a 6-7 year old I have bought (like Deadpool). Knock offs of. And the SS figures were never available (as seen in the movie) by Lego so all bets are off there. And that's the struggle...balancing cost/value in your budget along with respect for the original idea.

Gravatar
By in Germany,

I identified the fake from the screenshot....

Return to home page »