Imagine if your neighbor built a fake Apple store

In China this is not a fanciful idea

Fake Apple Store: China

By now you've probably seen the stories and pictures out of China about the five fake Apple stores. If not, here's a story, and I'm including a couple of the pictures with this post.

(Apple's App Store reaches milestone)

Now, I know next to nothing about Chinese intellectual property law, or, for that matter, Chinese culture and business ethics. But I do have a rough understanding of how these things are supposed to work in our society, so I'm sitting here thinking: What if my neighbor, Bob, was to tell me that he did in our little town what those Apple imitators did in their Chinese city? What might that conversation go like?

"Hey, Paul, let's take drive and go look at my new Apple store."

"You built an Apple store, Bob? Wow. I didn't know Apple sold franchise rights."

"Oh, I didn't get any franchise rights. Just hired me an architect, a construction company, and a crackerjack interior designer, who lucky for me had recently gotten out on parole. ... Voila, Apple store."

"Uhhh, OK, Bob ..."

Two thoughts occur next: This must be a gag, or Bob's having some kind of breakdown. But we drive to his Apple store - which, gosh darn it, looks absolutely indistinguishable from your standard Apple store, at least from the outside -- and Bob couldn't wait to hear my reaction.

"What do you think?"

"What do I think? I think it's one sweet Apple store, Bob."

We walk inside. The store wasn't open for business yet, but Bob had hired a staff and they were busy stocking shelves. Now I'm thinking that I must have misunderstood him on the franchise thing; maybe Apple is going that route, after all.

Right then he elbows me in the ribs.

"Hey, neighbor, check out the circular staircase."

Fake Apple Store: China

"Says Apple store, all right. ... But, Bob, I think I may have misheard you back at the house; you did ask Apple's permission to do this, right?"

"Nope."

"What do you mean nope?"

"I mean the don't-be-ridiculous kind of nope; you and I both know they wouldn't have said yes, not in a million years."

"So why'd you go ahead and build the store?"

"Everyone says you should follow your dream, right? This is my dream."

"But you know Apple's lawyers are going to be all over you before you can even get the store open."

"Maybe, maybe not. The staff's working their butts off and I'm thinking we might be able to open by Monday. Haven't heard boo from any lawyers yet."

"Building permit, how'd you get a building permit?"

"I told Town Hall it was going to be an Apple store. They were tickled; wanted to know if Steve Jobs would be at the opening. ... I mean it's not like I was putting up a strip club."

"Bank loan?"

"What part of 'Apple store' are you not understanding? Paperwork took maybe two days, tops."

 At this point I'm thinking this probably isn't a prank, not unless there's some new TV reality show that involves ... nah. Bob has clearly lost his mind and doesn't have a clue as to what he's gotten himself into. ... I take a stab at bringing him back to reality.

"Never mind Apple's lawyers, Bob, I'm thinking you may have actually broken a law or two here."

"Thank-you, Capt. Obvious. I'd say it's more like a half-dozen, but let's not quibble."

"You could go to jail."

"Expect as much."

"Then how can you be so cavalier about all of this?

"Follow your dream, my man; build it and they will come. ... This is an Apple store, not a Ponzi scheme. The press will eat it up; the public will make me out to be some kind of hero; and, what fanboy hasn't fantasized about owning his own Apple store? ... I'm figuring six months in the can, tops. And probation isn't out of question."   

"But what happens to your store when you go away?"

"Apple will buy it."

"Say what?"

"Apple ... will ... buy ... it. The publicity will be priceless. And I didn't skimp; this is a real-deal Apple store. ... I won't sell cheap, either."

Crazy, yes. Crazy like a fox? Maybe. As we drove home, I had one more question:

"Bob, if you do open the store on Monday, do you think you can swing me one of those employee discounts on a new iPhone?"

"Oh, sure, I could do that, Paul ... but it would be wrong."

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