Delicious irony: Chinese firm sues for patent infringement

A Chinese manufacturer of apparent knockoffs sues to protect its own intellectual property.

This post comes directly to you from the Department of Intellectual Property Irony.

Chinese manufacturer of photography tripods, Sirui, is waging a patent infringement war against another Chinese firm. Sirui claims the other company stole intellectual property related to its "elaborately researched and developed patent technology."

The Sirui website includes the following graphic, complete with the raised fist of underdogs who have been wronged and refuse to accept their fate without a fight:

Sirui intellectual property and patent fight

All of which ignores one key point: Sirui tripods appear to be knockoffs of a top tripod maker called Gitzo, which was founded in 1917. Both brands feature carbon fiber tubes and twist-locks, which are the mechanism for controlling how the legs extend. Several Chinese companies manufacture tripods that photographers consider Gitzo knockoffs, but it's extremely unusual for one of them to pursue its own intellectual property case.

This situation reflects China during a period of transition. Having developed excellent manufacturing capability, China is now the manufacturing outsourcer of choice for many major Western brands. At the same time, some Chinese firms want to become innovators who create intellectual property rather than merely reproduce other company's designs. Sirui's patents suggest broader ambitions, a sentiment that its website supports:

To promote benign competition and development of photographic equipment industry, it’s increasingly essential to standardize the industry action, reject illicit competition, initiate intellectual property construction and truly strengthen industry foundation construction and core competition.

In other words, Sirui faces the same intellectual property challenges that Western firms have complained about for years. As innovation, rather than duplication, becomes more deeply a part of Chinese business culture, the intellectual property situation will improve. For now, however, we find ironic situations that only make sense in the context of China's ongoing transition to innovator. China's intellectual property evolution will take many years, during which time we will surely see many odd and confusing situations -- such as this case.