A non-traditional source of innovation

For a long, China has been seen as a growing production powerhouse, seemingly able to push out ever more production of goods at economically viable prices.

Part of how that’s been achieved historically is through cheap imitation of established brands and essentially leeching from other R&D. But perhaps not now.

In reality, no country – and no company, really – can afford to remain an imitator, because imitation is not really a sustainable basis for success, but it is a viable starting point: if you gear up for producing imitations, you develop and establish the foundations, the key knowledge and machinery, to be able to produce almost anything else you care to design.

This is, unsurprisingly, where China is beginning to make the transition; having spent time being an imitator, they have the foundations, they have the key knowledge and skills – all they need is the imagination to develop something new.

And, judging by reports from the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), this may be exactly what is occurring.

You may, for example, have heard of Huawei. They’re a recent upstart in the smartphone market, for example. It might not be the most dramatic change to the market – but it is a new contender that’s rising out of the Asian market, and one of those leading the charge currently gathering momentum in China.

That, interestingly, is patents. I may not be the greatest fan of patents, but it’s worth taking note of things that happen in the ecosystem – this week, we’ve seen the International High-Tech Patent Litigation Conference in London, of which a keynote speech spotlighted how many patents China is filing.

Sure, a certain amount of the patents filed are patent trolling escapades, filed solely for the purpose of trying to litigate and make money without genuine intention to innovate, but that’s true of most patent environments.

That said, if the number of patents rises, there is a general trend associated with the number of innovations going on – and the number of patents being filed in China is definitely rising.

In fact, the plan in China is to massively encourage more, with the ideal to double the patent filing over the next few years – as they shift away from imitating to innovating.

Note that this isn’t entirely a self-improving plan; China does have to contend with the fact that wage rates are rising and the overall population is ageing, with the consequence that it does become harder to make use of lower-end, manufacturing-based industries in order to support the economy.

Whatever the reason, though, the fact is they are moving one of their key market bases, and I have little doubt that we’re going to see more innovative products emerge from China and Asia in general, simply because they have the foundations and the knowledge – and now we’re going to really start to see them leveraging it, far beyond what we’ve seen from the likes Huawei thus far…

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