What does it take to go from being a manufacturing powerhouse to a design and innovation hothouse?
This is an absolutely fascinating question to ponder, but for a country like China, which is trying to move up the value chain, it is a vital one as well. As China becomes a wealthier country, as costs rise, inflation bites and currency adjustments take their toll, the days of being the world’s cheap workshop are in danger.
Cheap just isn’t good enough. Someone – some country – can always be cheaper and competing down the ladder of success isn’t going to make your nation a lasting, prosperous, satisfied success.
But competing on smarts, competing on innovation, competing on design and competing on invention — these are things that can deliver lasting value. They are difficult to do, however.
China’s leaders have long emphasised innovation and it is a cornerstone of the new five year plan. That means national attention and resources are lined up behind this goal, with focus and urgency.
And looking at the numbers, that emphasis has paid off.
The Thomson Reuters Web of Science ranks China second worldwide in terms of the number of research papers published annually. A new Thomson Reuters report says patent applications have raced ahead at an annual rate of 16.7% during each of the past five years.
But of course the numbers game isn’t enough. Quantity alone without ensuring top quality won’t move anyone up the ladder.
The good news is that improvements in innovation will bring advances and reforms throughout the system.
Once Chinese companies become innovators, they will join their world wide peers in demanding enforcement of intellectual property rights laws — Chinese intellectual property will need and deserve the same standard of world wide protection. The rule of law will become ever more established as Chinese designers and inventors assert their rights. And information will flow more freely since true innovation and invention simply can’t happen in a vacuum.
We’re not all the way there today.
But Chinese inventors and companies are as determined as their government to make innovation a key attribute of a developing China.
That’s a key thing to watch as the world’s second largest economy moves into new stages of development and maturity. (more…)