Hong Kong design hub PMQ under fire for art installation that looks like patented Japanese toy ‘Rainbow Sticks’

Patent holder tells Post he did not know about the exhibition in city until local art critic told him

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 July, 2018, 8:02am
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 July, 2018, 11:32am

A Hong Kong design hub that promotes creativity has been criticised for allowing the display of an art installation resembling a two-decade-old patented toy from Japan.

The local work “Cuddle Bubble”, now exhibiting at a summer fair at venue PMQ, has raised eyebrows among netizens and art critics. Some have claimed the installation looked highly similar to “Rainbow Sticks”, a toy made for 18 years by the company Prodia and patented in its native Japan, the United States and mainland China.

One Facebook user said too many people “didn’t know how to respect” others’ rights, as evidenced by the strong likeness, while another suggested the Rainbow Sticks creator sue the installation designers, arguing he had grounds to do so.

More than 60 sticks of the Cuddle Bubble were placed in PMQ’s open courtyard, enabling visitors to rotate the toys such that the shiny, bell-shaped strips attached to the shafts form different shapes, including bubbles and rainbow-like patterns. This is similar to how the Japanese toy functions.

Rainbow Sticks’ patent holder, Yoshiyasu Kojima, who is Prodia’s chief executive, told the Post on Thursday he had not known about the Hong Kong installation until local art critic Joel Chung Yin-chai informed him.

Kojima said the company was aware of many counterfeit versions of the toy, claiming most were made on the mainland and that some were sold at cheaper prices than the original product.

The problem is that they are not ethically and socially conscious designers
Yoshiyasu Kojima, Prodia

“The same thing happened at the installation at PMQ and we are not surprised,” he added. “The problem is that they are not ethically and socially conscious designers … If they insist that the installation at PMQ is originally designed and made, we respect what they say. There is not much we can do about this.”

Chung said the Japanese toys were being sold by physical and online retailers globally including institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

“Rainbow Sticks in the product design sector are just like the board game Monopoly in the toy industry,” Chung said. “How can you imitate it without getting a licence, and claim that it’s your product?”

He also questioned whether PMQ, which bills itself as a promoter of local culture and creativity, had done its due diligence in screening works of art for copyright issues.

The installation’s designers, Bob Pang and Shuyan Chan, are affiliated with Architecture as a Medium, a local design and research studio the two co-founded in 2015 alongside another architect.

Pang referred the Post’s questions to a public relations firm commissioned by PMQ.

A representative for PMQ management said through the firm that Pang and Chan’s team had learned that similar toys to the item in question could be found internationally during their preparation for the fair.

“Many playthings are inspirations for countless creators,” she added. “This is also the case for the Cuddle Bubble installation, which is inspired by little toys in daily life. This concept has already been mentioned in various promotional channels.”

The installation team had checked the city’s Intellectual Property Department’s search system for trademark, patent and design records and did not find any related registration, the PMQ representative said.

A Facebook post earlier this month from a local cultural publication, City Magazine,  reported that the pair’s installation had been inspired by a Rainbow Stick they bought in Sham Shui Po.

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It added the pair later realised there were similar designs abroad and that they decided to report the likenesses to PMQ even if the move might jeopardise their project.

Located in the city’s Central district, PMQ was formerly the site of quarters for married police officers, built in 1951. The new complex opened in 2014 under the government’s heritage revitalisation scheme. It houses more than 100 studio-and-retail units that local designers can rent at subsidised rates.