Shanghai police have raided the factory which produces Lepin, the Chinese imitation of Lego, and arrested four people for infringement of copyright.
The criminal masterminds behind Lepin have managed to remain in business for years by the cunning ruse of openly selling their product in virtually every toy store in the country, and the scale of the operation can be judged by the fact that police reported seizing RMB 200 million worth of products, including more than 630,000 finished sets, 200,000 boxes, 200,000 instruction leaflets and manuals, and over 90 production molds.
One can only imagine the police reacting like Captain Renault in Casablanca on discovering that gambling was taking place at Rick’s Cafe, and being shocked – shocked! – to find that western intellectual property was being infringed in China. The arrests appear to be the final brick in the wall for Lepin, with their website making the following announcement.
Dear our valued customers,
We (LEPIN Factory) regret to announce that all LEPIN Blocks Set will temporary stop production from 01st May 2019. This notice is effective immediately upon request from the Chinese Government and Shanghai Police.
All remaining LEPIN sets will sold as usual but will not be re-stock in future. Please subcribes us to get news when LEPIN back to produce.
We thank you for your love of LEPIN during the past time. We will notice you ASAP when LEPIN is back to selling.
These Brands will continue selling as usual and will not be effected:
Xingbao Blocks: www.xingbaoblock.com
Bricks Delight: www.bricksdelight.com (LED Light Bricks)
Thank you and wish you all the luck.
The shutdown is the result of a long and patient legal action by Lego, which began in 2016 and in November 2018 concluded in a court order for the four companies which make Lepin to stop producing counterfeits and pay Lego RMB 4.5 million in compensation. It appears that one of the companies ignored the order and continued manufacturing, prior to last week’s raid.
Lego lost the patent on their iconic circular studs and locking system in 1984 when it emerged that they had, in fact, copied the idea from “Kiddicraft” bricks in the first place. However the designs of individual sets are copyright, and they have expensive licensing deals for major IP brands such as Star Wars and Harry Potter. Sometimes Lepin use lookalike, often unpronounceable names such as “Star Plan” or “Star Wnrs”, but on their website, it’s still possible to see brands simply replicated in identical fonts and colors.
Not all parents will rejoice at this news. Lepin’s products may be inferior to the real thing, but they’re also substantially cheaper: at the time of writing a Lepin Hogwarts Castle could be purchased from Taobao for just over RMB 400, whereas the official version retails at USD 400. It remains to be seen whether this is a one-off, or the beginning of a significant change in China’s notoriously lax attitude to intellectual property.