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The power of the copy of the copy

If being copied is a sign of being into making something right, what does it mean that someone copies the copy of your design?

This is the question that I am asking myself since the moment I yesterday discovered people here (Bangalore, India) making copies of copies of Arduino boards. Let me explain this at once: the Arduino boards are cheap for Europeans and Americans, but no matter how cheap the production is in the EU, importing them to India – where I am these days – makes them slightly more expensive to the final user.

Arduino Uno at Bangalore's Electronics Market
Arduino Uno at Bangalore's Electronics Market

An average undergrad from an engineering college will make here in India the equivalent to €500 as a starting salary. Some might make it to €700. This is when working for an average sized company, not when entering one of the big ones. I got this information from a professor at Srishti School of Arts and Design, in Bangalore. €500 is at the edge of what is needed for a person here to live independently, therefore many undergrads end up living in dorms or at their parents by the time the finish school while getting a better pay.

Having that in mind, an Arduino board here costs the equivalent to €22 (it is cheaper than in Europe), which is 1300 Rupees. Knowing the cost of life, €22 might sound just at the edge of what is reasonable here, but still it is so much cheaper than alternatives by other manufacturers due to the lack of side costs (documentation and software are for free). It is a fact that manufacturing a board in the EU has some extra expenses attached since we need to fulfill some environmental and EMC regulations that other countries don’t really have to.

For an Indian local company, manufacturing an Arduino Compatible board, will cost more than to the European manufacturer, however, the money they save in terms of security measures and shipping makes their margins be just enough to justify making boards locally, even if they have to call them something else (Arduino is a Trademark). It is possible to find one-generation-old Arduino Compatible boards for a little less than the originals: 1240 Rupees … this is something like €1 cheaper than the original.

The way these derivative boards are made is by making the PCBs in China – there are no good small size manufacturing facilities in India – and mounting the components by hand at tiny local shops in the market of Bangalore (though there is a move towards getting small sized pick and place machines what will speed up the process).

Turns out that one of those small shops realized that they were selling a lot of both original and derivative boards. They were getting the machine mounted boards from Italy, but also the PCBs to mount from the local retailer … so they thought that they could bypass both parties and make a copy of the copy!

Copy of an Arduino Compatible Board
Copy of an Arduino Compatible Board

And so it goes, in Bangalore it is possible to buy Arduino Uno original boards (the latest ones with all the special software like transforming the board into a computer keyboard or a MIDI device), Arduino Duemilanove compatible boards (a copy with a processor half as powerful as the previous one) and Arduino NG compatible boards (a copy of the copy with a processor that has been discontinued from the Arduino line due to its age). The local store has all the three and they range from 900 to 1300 Rupees with taxes. For those prices the resellers in India will add a USB cable and a CD with Arduino’s IDE to the package.

As I told my relatives over the internet: as a designer knowing my/our thing has been copied, is a sign of me/us making something right. As an academic, I went on, I figured out a way to disseminate knowledge in a pretty viral way. The engineer at that small shop is probably paying his kids’ school and medical service thanks to my design, not having to care about doing anything illegal, since he is allowed to copy it, how good do you think that feels?

11 thoughts on “The power of the copy of the copy”

  1. Being an Indian, I feel kinda ashamed about this article/fact, its definitely true that Arduino is a phenomenon and so are other innovations from the west. India has the capability and the resources to come up with these innovations but they are held back because of the buying power and the macroeconomics at large. The day, I see innovations from India replicated in the west, that day will be the happiest day of my life! Well, we are reaching there, our PSLV satellite is being used by France, love it!

    Arduino rocks!

    • Hej Shreekant,

      I don’t thing there is anything to be ashamed of. I published this article on my research team blog and not the Arduino one because this is an article about sharing knowledge, an open innovations. The very essence of what I do is to create for sharing. Therefore you should not feel bad about reusing my work, because it is licensed to be reused.

      There is a lot of things that come from India that have a strong influence in the west, it is just that they are invisible to us. When it comes to technology, India is a superpower in the software field and many of the everyday operations I do in my daily life go through Indian technology.

      Let’s start thinking about sharing and not owning, and let’s not think in terms of countries when it comes to ideas. Culture matters, but this is not a competition to see who is best. This is a long term process to make a better education, and a better world for all of us.


    •  Shreekant,

      Good to know you have morality and ethics.  I spent time in India and noticed they spend a lot of time stealing intellectual property and selling it.  Not a nice thing.

      i am of Japanese heritage and remember when they copied designs and I was ashamed, too.  They finally realized it was wrong, wrong, wrong. 

  2. Hello,

    Bangalore is a wonderful place to prototype in embedded electronics. The components are much cheaper than places like Sparkfun, and a lot of components are available. It feels great to be a student here, and be able to buy a whole bag of goodies and spend whole nights creating some exciting nic-nack around these micro controllers. AtMega328s are not easily available in Bangalore, but I make a lot of Serial Arduinos with the Atmega8’s. Serial Arduino PCBs are available for just Rs. 75, and all the other components cost another 150, so that is just ~230, or about USd5. Its really affordable to put creative technology into hands of our students here. A lot of my classmates use these Arduinos for little projects, from home made inverters for lights to some really cool stuff.

    Thanks Arduino!

    PS : Would be really nice if someone can update the bootloader for the Atmega8 so the delay time after reset comes down.!

    •  Bangalore is a good place if you can avoid the den of thieves.  I would encourage your countrymen to be moral, ethical and legal.  Just because the government does it, does not mean it is moral or ethical.  Ganesha is probably disappointed.

  3. The Indian copy-culture is really funny. At a technical school I asked teachers about the use of copied illustrations in dtp projects and websites. They said: “we only copy from outside India, no copyrights problems!”.
    About the pricing: In rural (south) India, you’ll have a full meal in a restaurant for 50 rupees, one liter petrol (for 50km motorbike trip) for 60 rupees. One Arduino 1300 INR is the equivalent of 1 month eating outside or 100 km motorbike driving.

  4. Indians will steal anything, even things that are not nailed down.  Then they will say it was their idea.  BTW, they do not make it better.  The copy is actually worse.  

    • BTW the people outside India are also not much intelligent as they think of…moreover let me tell u that four out of 10 Silicon Valley startups are run by Indians.Of the Fortune 500 companies, 220 outsource their software-related work to India.So i think that either u people are fool who outsouce your work to ‘copycat’ Indians or India has proved its mettle to rest of the world.

  5. Bangalore is a wonderful place to prototype in embedded electronics.There is a lot of things that come from India that have a strong influence in the west, it is just that they are invisible to us. When it comes to technology, India is a superpower in the software field and many of the everyday operations I do in my daily life go through Indian technology. 

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