Foreword

1. Why this post?

Because intellectual property infringement is a commonly encountered problem in China. Right now two out of three Chinese mobile carriers have updated or established anew their App-Store-ish application retail system, and IP violation exist in both of them. In order to make such illegal practices known to the international society, more importantly maybe the IP holder, I’m composing this post. The post here is based on a thorough examination through China Unicom’s UniStore, with apps that are potentially stealing others’ IP sorted out.

2. Why China Unicom?

Because China Unicom’s app retail system, dubbed UniStore, is still under closed test, boasting only about 760 apps (230 games). China Mobile’s counterpart (Mobile Market) on the other hand has already got about 20 thousands of apps. Combing through that is faaarr beyond my capacity. I’m not going to do anything remotely similar to it unless anyone wants to team up with me and share the burden. But trust me, IP infringement will only be far worse on China Mobile’s kingdom.

3. Is Unicom doing wrong?

Technically no, but practically yes. None of the apps in question is developed by Unicom, but by allowing them into the game, Unicom is practically encouraging IP violation.

4. Why they do that?

In the developers’ case, it’s because by faking bigger brand they gather attention faster, and sell more crudely made apps. The app retail systems of Chinese carriers do not offer anything like free trial or beta version. So, you buy it, you swallow it. Each app has a showcase chance of a handful of screenshots and a short text introduction. You make it sound like a big title, you get better chance of profitting.

In the carriers’ case, they generally do nothing about quality control. I’m not entirely sure about how Unicom is working on that. But several years ago, when China Mobile was operating their MBox (unified app distribution service waaaay earlier than Apple’s golden boy), all their QC procedure consisted of having 5 old men (average age about 50) who didn’t know two things about games to have a simple look. An app gets into the ecosystem quite easy as long as it doen’t have obvious bug, porno content, or political content. The judges didn’t know much or care much of IP.

5. How these apps violate IP?

Mostly two kinds of violation. One is by taking a identical or very similar name to well known game titles. The other is “borrowing” art elements from such titles.

6. Are you sure this is violating IP?

Not entirely, because, you see, gaming itself is mostly banned in China. The entire console gaming family besides GBA and DS are legally not there; about 80% PC games are banned from entry. Local offline PC game developers have long given up the business due to heavy piracy and impossibility of profitting. So, mostly offline games are introduced by blackmarket smuggling or download piracy. Some foreign games have registered Chinese names here, others are addressed among netizens with Chinese named registered in Hong Kong, Taiwan, or even unofficial translation. I’m not sure if violating the registered HK or TW Chinese name in mainland China is considered illegal.

Evidence

1. 蝙蝠侠-黑暗骑士

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Offended Whom: DC and others down the product line

How: To be precise this game has a full title that translates into English as (Movie Blockbuster) Batman: The Dark Knight (Super Classical). The two lines of nonsense clearly indicates it’s not a product from DC or whoever is related to the Batman series. The usage of term “蝙蝠侠” and “黑暗骑士” may not be illegal since few movies of the franchise has hit the big screen in China, and the comic series never made the appearance. But the usage of the bat logo may be illegal.

2. 反恐精英战士4

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Offended Whom: Valve

How: The first person tactical shooter Counterstrike WAS LEGALLY IMPORTED under the name 反恐精英. Appearance of the four characters in the title should be obvious infringement.

3. 魔兽战争之无敌争霸

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Offended Whom: Blizzard

How: It’s hard to translate this title into English properly while keeping the resemblance to Warcraft. The game Warcraft WAS LEGALLY IMPORTED under the name 魔兽争霸. This Unicom app torn the Warcraft Chinese title apart and smuggled four (largely meaningless) characters in between. 魔兽= magical beast (also the nick name of Warcraft series), 战争=war, 之= ‘s, of, 无敌=invincible, 争霸=war

4. 野兽争霸!狂拳

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Offended Whom: Blizzard

How: Although completely different art style, the app title 野兽争霸 is only 1 character different from 魔兽争霸 (Warcraft). 野兽 means beasts and 魔兽 means magical beasts. That makes the two titles even more close.

5. 忍

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Offended Whom: Sega

How: The cover design, including visual elements and fonts, bear a lot of resemblence to Sega MegaDrive big title Shinobi. Actually although named “Ninja” here, the Chinese character 忍 reads “shinobi” in Japanese.

6. 纸牌游戏

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Offended Whom: Microsoft (?)

How: Well, Windows users, you tell me how. Not only the look, but the Chinese title also means “Solitaire Game”.

7. 打泡泡

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Offended Whom: Microsoft (?)

How: If you are a long time Windows Mobile user you know very well how.

8. 列国无双

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Offended Whom: KOEI

How: The most famous or notorious KOEI franchise is Dynasty Warriors. The titles reads “Sangoku Musou” in Japanese, and writes into kanji “三国无双”(translates into “strongest of three kingdoms”). And this is 列国无双 (strongest of all those kingdoms). What ya think?

9. 魔兽之死灵骑士

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Offended Whom: Blizzard

How: As told, 魔兽 stands for the full title 魔兽争霸 (Warcraft) in Chinese context. Thus effectively the title of this app means “Warcraft: Undead Knight”. Meanwhile, they used exactly the same Warcraft font on the “魔兽” part. Meanwhile and another while, aren’t they trying to put an uglified portrait of Prince Alsace there?

10. NBA明星斗地主

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Offended Whom: Yao Ming, and NBA

How: Although named NBA, this ain’t sport game. It’s a poker game. You don’t think NBA would license a poker game do you? Plus, I guess Yao Ming won’t be happy seeing his face on this crappy app.

11. 武林歪传

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Offended Whom: InterServ (昱泉国际)

How: Chinese gamers of my generation know this name 昱泉国际, who made a lot of famous titles (good or bad) at its peak. Among those titles there was this one called 新神雕侠侣 in 2000, and the cover art is like this. I don’t know how you define IP infringement if this isn’t it. And… say, I have damn good memory don’t I?

12. 火影忍者之生死三分钟

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Offended Whom: Naruto (Japanese manga)

How: Firstly, “火影忍者” is the legal Chinese title for Naruto in HK or TW exactly which I can’t be sure. Plus, ain’t that the character Naruto on the cover art? Japanese companies seldom license Chinese companies to make their games. This is quite likely the result of theft.

13. 暗黑战神(精装版)

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Offended Whom: Blizzard, SCEA

How: Everyone loves God of War series by SCEA. It’s not imported but commonly addressed as 战神 here. And lots of people love Diablo franchise which HAS BEEN IMPORTED under the title 暗黑破坏神 but almost always casually addressed as 暗黑. So, 暗黑战神 (Diablo God of War), huh? Plus, Kratos, is that you on the cover?

14. 暗黑战神II-女巫篇

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Offended Whom: Blizzard, SCEA

How: Same story, Diablo and God of War. Only this time they fired Kratos but used a title design much like that of God of War?

15. 哈利波特

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Offended Whom: J.K. Rowling, SCE

How: “哈利波特” is exactly the same name, character to character, used by Harry Potter books and movies across mainland China. And the cover art here is very much like that of Loco Roco.

16. 星球争霸

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Offended Whom: Blizzard

How: Starcraft series of Blizzard WAS IMPORTED under the title 星际争霸. There is only 1 character difference between the two. 星球 means planet while 星际 means interstellar. The difference is even smaller then.

17. 魔兽

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Offended Whom: Blizzard

How: Same old Warcraft story. 魔兽 is the more frequently used name of Warcraft instead of the full form 魔兽争霸.

18. 蒸发密令

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Offended Whom: Which movie house was that?

How: In 1996 Anold Schwarzenegger was starred in a blockbuster movie Eraser, which was soon imported by China under the title 蒸发密令. Exactly the same characters. If my memory serves me right they are having even the same font here.

19. 超级忍者

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Offended Whom: Techmo, (maybe) Microsoft Game Studios

How: Ryu Hayabusa, I see you.

20. 兰博之第一滴血

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Offended Whom: Still not sure which movie house that would be

How: Well, 兰博 is the Chinese title for Rambo and 第一滴血 is that for First Blood. Sylvester Stallone is gonna hate the bugger who made this.

21. 三国猛将2

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Offended Whom: KOEI

How: The title, the art, everything is a shameless copy from KOEI’s Dynasty Warriors 2. They didn’t even bother to cover it.

22. 侍魂

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Offended Whom: SNK

How: As a big Samurai Spirit (or Samurai Showdown) fan, I never knew SNK licensing the title to any Chinese developer. But here you see the title (even write the same in Chinese character and Japanese kanji), the font, the art, and there’s half a Haomaru there!

Conclusion

That’s about it. 22 highly likely infringement of IP rights in 230 game apps. That’s almost 10%, quite high percentage. Considering I’ve had mercy on about 10 more titles, you get the idea how bad the ecosystem of Unicom has become without even being formally born.

Seriously I hope the IP holders could do something about this chaos. This is for China’s good. By relying on IP violation, Chinese developers are killing their own creativity very fast.

Anyone who wants to know more about mobile app market here or IP infringement in particular please leave a comment here. I will very much like to know what you guys are thinking.

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