They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but Baltimore-based footwear-and-apparel maker Under Armour Inc. is hardly beaming with pride.
This week, images from a glitzy rollout for a new Chinese sneaker brand called Uncle Martian took the Internet by storm.
Executives for the brand, the supposed brainchild of Fujian-based Tingfei Long Sporting Goods Co., posed in front of its emblem, which bore a striking resemblance to that of Under Armour.
Much like Under Armour’s iconic logo, Uncle Martian’s features a “U” above an inverted “U”— except it’s similarly stylized letters do not intersect in the same way that Under Armour’s does in order to form an “A.”
“Under Armour is aware of the Uncle Martian launch event,” a spokesperson for the brand told Footwear News in an email today. “Uncle Martian’s uses of Under Armour’s famous logo, name and other intellectual property are a serious concern and blatant infringement. Under Armour will vigorously pursue all business and legal courses of action.”
China has long been regarded as a haven for counterfeiting, and while the Chinese government has ramped up its efforts to combat the manufacturing and sale of knockoffs, experts contend that their efforts have yielded minimal results.
Matt Priest, president of the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America (FDRA), said ongoing issues with counterfeiting in China have created a series of challenges for athletic brands over the years.
“[Counterfeiting creates] the potential for lost sales and increases costs for supply-chain management and supply-chain security as well as intellectual property protection,” Priest said. “There are also legal costs associated with battling this in China, and any time [a brand] has to add those [costs] on to their other expenses, it takes away from its ability to invest in innovation, job development and other areas that are not as defensive but more on the offensive side.”
Still, as Under Armour continues its accelerated rise in the ranks of global athletic brands — some have dubbed it a formidable threat to global leader Nike Inc. — a China-based copycat brand may be par for the course.
“Some might say, ‘Welcome to the club Under Armour,’ ” Priest said. “There is a history of the litany of famous global brands that have run into this challenge in China in particular. Counterfeiting comes with success. If you’re a globally desirable brand, which Under Armour has become in a pretty short amount of time, that will come with counterfeiting.”
Priest said he expects that Under Armour will work hard to combat Uncle Martian’s efforts, but he doesn’t consider the China-based start-up a serious threat to the multi-billion dollar brand.
“This isn’t something that will cut into any kind of global share of athletic footwear purchases — and not even the Chinese share,” Priest said. “The Chinese consumers are pretty astute, and they want access to global brands like anyone else.”
Since China’s anti-counterfeit laws can be complicated, Priest said his organization encourages its members to be proactive when launching their brands in China.
“Register your trademarks in China and register any kind of English pronunciation and/or Chinese phonetical pronunciation of your brand so that you can cover all your bases early on,” Priest said, citing the now-famous trademark case that pitted Michael Jordan against China-based Qiaodan Sports. (Qiaodan is the Chinese version of Jordan’s name.)