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China Innovation Lags

Don’t believe everything you read about Chinese innovation, research and development. While the headlines proclaim: “China to overtake US on science in two years” and “China seen overtaking U.S. in research“, China is still a long way behind the global competition.

So says the WSJ, looking closely at patent filings in the leading countries.  95 percent of Chinese patents were filed domestically, and most made only small improvements on existing designs. The real innovation takes place at the international patent offices, especially when the three main offices in the US, Europe and Japan issue a patent or grant for the same project. There were only 473 “triadic” patent filings from China versus 14,399 from the US, 14,525 from Europe, and 13,446 from Japan. That’s only 1 percent of the global total.

Another problem in Chinese innovation is corruption. It is a well-known secret, say the deans of Life Sciences at Tsinghua and Peking Universities, that “doing good research is not as important as schmoozing with powerful bureaucrats and their favorite experts”.

Sustainable global leadership involves more than high profile projects and industrial catch-up on a mass scale.  It requires a culture of innovation and liberty and the development of political and juridical institutions that can adjust to rapid change. (Somebody should write a book about this — oh wait!  Somebody already has.) China has come an impressively long way, but the road ahead is long, and there are plenty of potholes.

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  • Jack King

    Mr. Mead
    I have only recently begun to visit your blog, about 6 months. You immediately moved to the top of my list.

    Suddenly this week I see only short observations instead of the in depth articles I so enjoy. Very disappointing.

    What happened? Do you still write them and if so, where can I find them again?

    Thanks for your time.

    • Peter Mellgard

      @Jack – the in depth articles are still here. Check the sidebar labeled Mead In Depth – all the latest long essays are there.

  • Andy S

    Just picked up the book “Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World” by Deirdre McCloskey from the library, in which she offers her contrarian theory about how the West was so successful over the last few hundred years. (Haven’t read it yet, but it apparently boils down to a change in rhetoric rather than purely economic factors, i.e. once it became approved-of to be a merchant/trader, these activities exploded.) Will be interesting to contrast her view with your “God & Gold” insights.

  • Kris

    Count me among those who appreciate the addition of your quick takes. I can always find a few of them which briefly shine the spotlight on an important yet generally neglected issue. Not to mention the laughs provided by your incomparable oblique sardonicness.

  • Jim.

    How do China’s institutions of today compare to Japan’s of the first third of the 20th century?

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