In what’s become an annual affair at the EICMA motorcycle exhibition, Italy’s Guardia di Finanza police entered the Fiera Milano Convention Center last week to confiscate scooters deemed too similar in appearance to those built by Piaggio Group (which includes Vespa, Aprilia and Gilera). According to a Piaggio press release, the vendors violated “the exclusive Piaggio Group right constituted by the three-dimensional trademark registered by Piaggio, which protects the characteristic shape of the Vespa.”
The offending companies are suffering from short memories as well as a lack of originality. Similar scenarios have played out at EICMA for the past few years. In 2011, an MP3-like scooter built by Kaitong in China was ceremoniously draped in a white cloth and rolled out of the hall by officers. Last year, six scooters were removed due to their Vespa-ness. The 2013 tally: 11 models from seven vendors.
Though this year’s violators are not named in Piaggio’s press release, accompanying photos show a scooter similar to their Aprilia Mojito next to the vintage Vespa Super-like Puma Valentine (sold under various names in different countries). Oddly, the Hyosung Eva was not seized when shown at EICMA last year, but is another of the models seen in this year’s press photos. It’s worth noting that the Eva, like many of the targeted scooters the past two years, is electric-powered, something Piaggio has yet to offer outside its commercial vehicles.
The alleged copies’ degree of similarity to various Vespa models is fairly subjective. None of those impounded at EICMA the past three years are identical clones but the resemblance is undeniable. However, the “characteristic shape of the Vespa” is the foundation of classic scooter design, influencing the design of many scooters on the market. The SYM Fiddle was intentionally designed to mimic Vespa’s LX. Kymco’s Compagno is arguably as close to the “three dimensional trademark” as many of the ousted scooters.
Piaggio’s efforts appear intended to ensure their exclusivity on trade show floors rather than dealer floors. Most of the models expelled from EICMA over the past three years are still being built. While halting the manufacture of lookalikes might entail navigating a labyrinth of international trade laws, many of the scooters are still for sale, even in Italy.
One of the few instances of preventing the production and sale of imitators to consumers was a complaint filed in 2010 by Piaggio against Vinashin Motors in Vietnam. The product in question, the Diamond Blue, was the rare copycat that’s nearly indistinguishable from the original. Even small details like the blue horncast emblem echoed the Piaggio logo on the Vespa LX. The clincher in the case was the Diamond Blue’s Honda-branded engine which wasn’t actually built by Honda. The charges led to the recall of approximately 250 Diamond Blues and Vinashin was forced to stop selling them.
A few hundred fewer imitators for sale does little to impede the steady flow of doppelgangers. The actions are, at best, a symbolic statement of disapproval. If Piaggio’s intent is to send a message, it doesn’t seem to be sinking in. Maybe next year.