Date
17 August 2017
Tiffany has lost patience with Alibaba's failure to eliminate counterfeiting on its e-commerce platforms. It remains to be seen to what extent Jack Ma (inset) is bothered by the move. Photos: Bloomberg, Reuters
Tiffany has lost patience with Alibaba's failure to eliminate counterfeiting on its e-commerce platforms. It remains to be seen to what extent Jack Ma (inset) is bothered by the move. Photos: Bloomberg, Reuters

First, Queen Elizabeth. Now, Tiffany. Who’s next?

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth was caught on camera this week sympathizing with a London police commander for having to deal with difficult (she said “very rude”) Chinese officials during last year’s state visit by President Xi Jinping.

The commander allowed that “it was quite a testing time for me”.

It’s not just senior police officers that are having a testing time these days dealing with the Chinese — and expressing their frustration.

Well-known luxury brands are openly displaying their unhappiness with one of the mainland’s best-known companies.

When e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. was admitted to a global anti-counterfeiting coalition recently, Tiffany & Co. resigned from the group, just days later.

On Wednesday, the US-based luxury brand pulled out from the board of the International AntiCounterfeiting Coalition (IACC), the Wall Street Journal reported, without giving a reason for its departure.

Many luxury brands like Tiffany have lost hope in Alibaba’s handling of rampant counterfeiting on its popular Taobao shopping website.

Michael Kors, which also withdrew from the 250-member coalition, said Alibaba’s admission to the group provides “cover to our most dangerous and damaging adversary”.

Gucci also quit the non-profit group within the past three weeks.

It appears that Alibaba was wrongfooted by the reaction to its entry into the IACC.

The firm declared Wednesday that it is expanding its fakes-fighting program by joining the group, as that will provide companies with an expedited process for working with Alibaba to identify and take down online listings for counterfeit goods.

However, the move will probably not persuade a group of top luxury brands drop their lawsuit against the firm over the counterfeiting on Taobao, which takes a big chunk out of their worldwide revenues.

Last year, Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent and other brands owned by Kering SA sought damages and an injunction for alleged violations of trademark and racketeering laws.

Alibaba boss Jack Ma Yun said he would rather lose money than settle the case. 

The firm lamented the fact that these brands chose the path of wasteful litigation instead of one of constructive cooperation.

Perhaps the courtroom is, in fact, not the best place to resolve these matters.

But Tiffany’s rapid reaction clearly indicates there is not much tolerance left among the global brands for China’s lack of respect for the rules for intellectual property that apply in the rest of the world.

No country or company would readily reject the profits to be made from Chinese tuhao, or nouveau riche — but there comes a point when even those with renminbi signs in their eyes feel they cannot take any more abuse of civilized business practices.

The inadvertent (or advertent) leak of Elizabeth’s remarks to the police commander shows that the monarch’s unhappiness at the treatment of the officer and the British ambassador to China hasn’t diminished more than six months after the state visit.

Most Britons, though tired of the bowing and scraping to economically powerful China by their politicians, still respect their queen, who has now made the point that there are limits to what can expect to be tolerated.

And that may apply equally to business as to state-to-state relations.

Meanwhile, we’re curious to see what the top luxury brands will think about continuing to place their lucrative glossy advertisements in Ma’s new media toy, the South China Morning Post.

– Contact us at [email protected]

BK/AC/FL

EJ Insight writer

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