Date
23 August 2017
A Hong Kong app developer says the Laiwang messaging app (inset) developed by Jack Ma's Alibaba Group stole one of the features of his app. Photo: HKEJ
A Hong Kong app developer says the Laiwang messaging app (inset) developed by Jack Ma's Alibaba Group stole one of the features of his app. Photo: HKEJ

Alibaba a ‘copycat’, award-winning entrepreneur says

A Hong Kong information technology entrepreneur is suggesting a hidden agenda lies behind the setting up by Alibaba Group of a fund to help young people in the city start their own businesses.

Keith Li, founder of mobile app developer Innopage and a winner of an innovative entrepreneur award in 2012, said the internet giant’s strategy is in fact to find shortcuts to creative ideas, Apple Daily reported Friday.

On Tuesday, Li wrote in an article on inmediahk.net that in September 2013 Innopage launched a friend-making app called Worthy, which was once recommended by Apple’s App Store.

Alibaba, introduced to him by IT industry insiders, paid a visit to Innopage in October 2013, Li said.

He said both sides had discussed details of Worthy and its related data. After the meeting, Alibaba did not ask for any follow-up meeting with him.  

Later that year, Li said, Alibaba added to its own friend-making app a new function called “door knocking”, which requires users to answer three questions before starting to make friends, exactly the same as a feature in Worthy.

Asked why he kept his suspicions about Alibaba copying his app’s idea to himself until now, Li said he was spurred to speak up by the mainland firm’s recent announcement of a HK$1 billion (US$130 million) fund for Hong Kong’s young entrepreneurs.

“I feel obligated to remind other people working in the IT industry not to repeat the experience I had, and it is important to always protect yourself,” Li said.

He said the announcement of the new fund lacks details, and applicants may end up losing twice — by not receiving any funding while having disclosed their creative ideas.

On Tuesday, Li released a letter to Alibaba chairman Jack Ma Yun that he drafted a year ago but didn’t send out.

In it, he questioned Ma’s motives behind the fund, saying Alibaba had copied his firm’s product. 

Time will prove whether Ma, like Ali Baba, the hero of the folk tale, is using his wealth to save Hong Kong’s young people or is merely trying to create a vehicle for conveniently stealing ideas, like the 40 thieves, the letter said.

An Alibaba spokesman said in a written response to media enquiries that Li’s accusation is totally untrue. He said the firm has been supportive of creativity and will remain dedicated to it.

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TL/AC/FL

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