Case 6 TONIA MOTORBIKES: A CASE OF CHINESE PIRACY Tonia Motorbikes is the third largest manufacturer of motorized scooters in Japan. The company sells its product, a 125cc vehicle in Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Vietnam, and other Asian markets. In an effort to reduce labor costs and to penetrate the Chinese market, Kenichi Hoskia, CEO of Tonia, decided to establish a manufacturing operation on the Chinese mainland. Tonia invested $17 million in a state-of-the-art production facility. The Chinese government had insisted on Tonia making a major commitment in order to enter China, including the establishment of a facility equipped with Tonia's most advanced manufacturing technology.

Tonia formed a joint venture with China's Happy Motors, a large, state-owned motorbike manufacturer. Tonia was required to share its technology secrets with Happy as a condition of the joint venture agreement. At first Kenichi resisted; however, the Chinese government assured him that it was in the best interests of both partners to keep the information secret. The Chinese government guaranteed that no one outside the partnership would be allowed access to any of Tonia's trade secrets. Since this guarantee came from high levels of the Chinese government, Kenichi felt more comfortable letting Happy Motors gain insight into the recent advances Tonia had made in small engine design.

The thought of a market with 1.25 billion consumers was also a factor in his decision to share critical trade information. After only five months of producing motorbikes in China, a Tonia employee noticed the Tonia 125 model being sold over the Internet for $1200. Since the machine sold for $2,400 in Japan and $1,600 in China, the employee questioned how a new bike could be sold so cheaply. Further investigation led Tonia to Yiwu, China, where the seller was located, ft was learned that Yiwu is the counterfeit capital of China—a place where counterfeiters from all over the country come to distribute their goods. Upon investigation, Tonia employees learned that the motorbikes being sold under the Tonia brand name were indeed counterfeit products. With the help of an investigator in China, Tonia learned that not only were counterfeit bikes being sold in China, but that they were being exported to other Asian countries and some were even being exported to the United States and Europe. It was obvious to Kenichi that someone at Happy Motors had sold Tonia's technology. Not only was Tonia losing sales due to the counterfeit goods, but Kenichi also worried that if the quality of the product were inferior, consumers in important markets would be lost for future sales. Kenichi feared that if this situation were left unchecked, the potential existed to ruin the strong brand name Tonia had established. Kenichi continued to investigate the source of the counterfeited goods but was unable to determine where the products were being manufactured.

Rumor had it that a former Taiwanese counterfeiter, who was expelled from Taiwan when the government cracked down on product piracy, had moved to the Guangdong province of China and was manufacturing Tonia brand scooters there. It was also rumored that this individual had connections with Chinese government officials; however, there was no proof that these rumors were true. After six months of investigation, Kenichi still could not determine the source of the counterfeit bikes and it was becoming clear that further investigation would probably not reveal the source. Kenichi did learn that, regardless of official government policy, product piracy was rampant in China. Weak laws, poor enforcement, and light penalties made counterfeiting a very lucrative and attractive business in China. Kenichi sat in his office and pondered his next move.

1. Do you find it conceivable that state-owned enterprises in China are engaging in product piracy? Explain.

2. What effect has China's entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) had on product piracy?

3. What should Kenichi do about this problem?