The other crazy thing about the mobile phone market is that it’s not the only one. Windell said he found another market just as big but with a greater focus on finished phones, and then just today I walked into what looked like the New York Stock Exchange of mobile phones. This last find was really fascinating; there is a spot in the heart of the market where you have chain smoking traders sitting in booths piled high with finished mobile phones in plastic sleeves ready for sale on the gray market. It’s so packed and frenzied that from across the building when I looked over in that area I thought maybe a small disaster had occurred and people were gathering around to watch it. Each trading booth had a price list sitting in front; it’s the only place in China where I’ve seen a written price for a phone (but presumably you haggled over prices anyways). People were scampering around the the exchange, carrying sleeves of five, ten, twenty mobile phones. I probably saw at least a few hundred phones move through the exchange in the few minutes that it took me to walk a corner of it; I imagine thousands, if not tens of thousands, of phones move through that exchange in one day. Near that area are dozens of booths selling batteries for these phones … and the best part about these battery booths is that there is a girl sitting in each with raw lithium ion batteries and a pile of Nokia stickers, and she is literally building the fake batteries right before your eyes. She even has the holographic Nokia authenticity stamp; the finished batteries look exactly like the real thing. I asked one of them to sell me a sheet of the holo-stamps, but she wanted 1 USD per stamp because “they were of a high grade” or “the real thing” (I couldn’t quite understand the chinese words she used). I was trying to argue her down on price and apparently if I didn’t want to pay her price I could find a lower grade of stamp in other booths for less but she would not carry such shoddy merchandise in her booth. Ironic.
Ask me if I’m sympathetic to Nokia. No. Why? Because a guy at a big mobile phone company which will remain unnamed once said to me something like this: we know about your work, we like it, it’s useful, but your patent makes it awkward for us. Well, I said, pay a license fee and it’s yours to use. We don’t do that.