(BEIJING) -- They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But for many international companies in China, protecting themselves from counterfeiters is a constant and costly battle. Hop on the Beijing subway and you may notice ads for "Groupon.cn." It's the same name as the American daily deals web giant, even the same logo. But "Groupon.cn" has nothing to do with the real "Groupon," which actually calls itself "Gaopeng" in China.
The real Groupon launched its Chinese website earlier this year with much fanfare but it has been lagging in sales, in part because of websites like "Groupon.cn" and the thousands of other Groupon imposters. An employee of Groupon.cn told ABC News that the company has nothing to do with "Groupon.com," despite having the same name, and that she did not know why they had chosen the "Groupon.cn" domain name.
The problem is not limited to Groupon. This week an American living in Kunming, in Southwest China, ignited a media furor when she posted pictures on her blog of an entirely fake Apple store. From the hardwood floors to the minimalist staircase and sleek Apple posters on the walls, it is almost impossible to distinguish the store from a real Apple store. Shop attendants wear blue T-shirts bearing the Apple logo, and many of the employees reportedly believe that they worked in a legitimate Apple store.
The one major giveaway, the blogger wrote, the sign in front of the store: "Apple never writes 'Apple Store' on its signs -- it just puts up the glowing, iconic fruit."
The blogger added that there are two other fake Apple stores in Kunming. No one from those stores could be reached Friday, but one employee told a reporter from Xinhua that staff had been instructed to remain silent and that a press release from the company's headquarters would be forthcoming.
A representative from the real Apple told ABC News that the company is declining to comment on the issue. The three stores are not listed as official resellers on Apple's website.
The fake Apple is just the latest example of brazen counterfeiting in China. In 2003 Starbucks sued a Chinese coffee shop chain that called itself Xingbake, Mandarin for Starbucks. Disney clamped down hard on the "Lovely Rat" Mickey Mouse lookalikes that appeared in Beijing during the Olympics. And it has battled for years to shut down the Shijingshan Amusement Park in Beijing, whose central structure bears more than a passing resemblance to the Disney World's Magic Kingdom.
Often companies are smart, changing their name just a tiny bit. Hence the birth of eateries such as "KFG", "Pizza Huh" and "McDnoald's."
Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio
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