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China and Innovation: Should the West be Worried?

China and Innovation: Should the West be Worried?

November has proven to be crucial in terms of reports, testimonies and seminars about strengthening of Patent System in China. Prominent among all was the Thomson Reuters report, titled Chinese Patenting: A report on the Current State of Innovation in China. The report clearly went on to state that besides registering significant growth in scientific publications, China is now all set to emerge as the world leader in publishing patent applications, by the time 2011 drew to a close.

On December 5, both the Washington Post and the NY Times went on to publish a detailed report on China’s developments towards emerging as a democratic society. However, both articles seem unsure about the future course of action China would undertake. There has also been complete lack of clarity on engagement of the US and the commercial reality that China is perhaps one of the most undesirable places for breeding new technologies and development of new product lines.

There was also a very recent conference organized in the Pennsylvania State University, titled, China’s Emerging Technological Trajectory: Challenges and Opportunities. The panel constituted learned speakers from multiple disciplines including scientists, engineers, lawyers, geographers and cognitive psychologists. The general consensus that emerged here was that foreigners were much more optimistic in comparison to Chinese nationals about the country’s abilities to come up with innovations. According to Chinese nationals, economic, cultural and social obstacles were primarily responsible for China emerging as an innovative society of sorts.

A discussion was also carried out here about how one might analyze China’s patent related data to determine whether they are suggestive of the fact that they are indeed inclined too much in its patent subsidy system. This is because when China’s month-wise data with respect to patent filings was analyzed, it went on to show a typical spike in the number of filings towards the end of the year. This could be on account of the year-end budgets that would support patent filings and increased rewards for patentees. These would also acknowledge companies with innovative streaks and meet the criteria requirements of government employees where advancements in civil services are awarded on the basis of the number of patents filed in their area. As a result of these superficial efforts, several Chinese patents are of low quality and non-commercial nature.

Concurrently, there is also a school of thought that China, in fact, does not require a disruptive innovator or someone like Steve Jobs to make a mark. Incremental rates in innovation drives could be China’s ideal solution for the manufacturing-oriented and labor-intensive society that China is. The art of improving from aping and copying should ideally be dealt with as a specific and independent topic and we have books, such as Copy Cats: How Smart Companies Use Imitation to Gain Strategic Edge, dedicated to it completely. This publication has been elaborately discussed at the China Institute Forum organized in New York City, on December 9.

The answer might also lie in enhanced collaboration. As has been noted aptly by Adam Segal belonging from the Council on Foreign Relations on November 2, 2011, almost 40% engineering and science publications of Chinese origin have been co-authored by an American. This is the highest for any other foreign nation. More and more multinational organizations are looking at R&D facilities in China and the results of their research create an impact on the global networks. A case in point is Microsoft for which a sizeable portion of inventions filed in the US were associated with an inventor who was a co-resident or resident of China.

This discussion is all slated to attain fresh dimensions on December 13, 2011. Here, a group of political scientists, lawyers, trade officials and business entrepreneurs are slated to congregate at the George Washington University for a program co-sponsored with the Fordham Law School. The discussion would be a confusing equation between IP protection for patents in particular, with the innovative strategies of China. This would be followed by a program on December 16 at the Beijing-based American Chamber of Commerce. This would be dedicated to the analysis of China’s innovation culture. Speakers from Microsoft, The US Embassy and Chinese lawyers, who have prominent publications on similar topics to their credit, would grace the occasion.

Most prominent thinkers agree that the West would have to develop a critical outlook towards what might be needed for continuing to be innovative. Observers have been disheartened on account of developments like the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy funding, termination of academic programs on Society and science and technology at the Pennsylvania University. As Segal rightly pointed out, “The combination of a rising China and globalizing science and technology make a more strategic approach to interacting with China in science and technology a necessity.”

Note: The preceding is a summary of an article found though our research, and is provided here with editorial comment for members only. You can see the full article at the following link –

The New Asia Innovation Team