12/6/11

China, Becoming an Innovation Super Power?

Credit: http://www.aboutastra.org/latest_news/05-16-2011-china-innovation.asp

Recently, there have been a lot of discussion about China becoming the next innovation super power. A recent HBR blog “Get Ready for China’s Innovation Juggernaut” alerts the readers that China is making huge strides to transform themselves as an innovative nation.  It uses examples that more than 100 million registered private enterprises in China; the Chinese firm Huawei was third among all companies in number of patents filed last year; and media conversation these days centers on when, not whether, China will produce a success story like Steve Jobs’. For the first time in 2009, four Chinese companies are listed in the 50 Most Innovative Companies ranking by Bloomberg Businessweek, while American companies on the list decreased from 35 in 2007 to 22 in 2009. All signs are pointing to the fact that China is going to become next innovation power house.

On the other hand, there are doubts existing about Chinese innovation capability. An earlier NPR report Plagiarism Plague Hinders China’s Scientific Ambition pointed out that 31 percent of papers with unreasonable copying and plagiarism. Blame lies in part with traditional Chinese culture, as many scientists believe, which values rote memorization and repetition and holds that copying a teacher’s work is a way of learning.

No one can deny the fact that Chinese government is pushing innovation with strong incentive policies. From WIPO data source, China is the only major country with increased Intellectual Property (IP) application in last two years when other countries experienced IP application decreasing because of financial crisis. We can argue that IP application only means quantity, not quality. However, we also see China has a dramatic increase in IP granted. Below graph illustrates Top 10 countries of IP granted according to WIPO data from 1995 to 2009.

Top 10 Countries with IP Granted (Source: WIPO)

Japan has been the leader of IP granted, followed by the United States. Korea surpassed Germany becoming the number third since 2004. However, China passed Korea in 2009 while Korea experiences a significant drop in IP granted since 2007. According to the NPR report, China is forecast to become the world’s leading innovator in 2011, overtaking the United States and Japan in number of patent filings.

There is no doubt that China is very good in enhancing current technology. However, the question lies whether China can create “disruptive” technologies or services, which can lead the market and build the brands, such as Apple, Facebook and twitter. Government policy motivates the number of IP application or grants, but perhaps majority of those innovation are incremental improvement and development, instead of breakthrough creations which can drive much more value for the business and the society.

Thus, come back to my question: will China become next innovation super power? To my knowledge, Chinese are still learning how to be more creative and more innovative. If China wants to become the most innovative nation, the government policy should drive a scientific culture which emphasizes quality, instead of quantity, with an innovative environment embracing patience, persistence and precision.

10/4/10

Preface: A Flat but Complicated World

First of all, I am so sorry for not being available to write the business blog for a while. So what have I being doing recently?

My PhD study in Marketing and International Business has started in August so I have been adjusted myself to get used to this challenging while intriguing student life. Very different from the learning in my MBA, which is quite practical for a business professional, the PhD learning is quite theoretical while beneficial for my future research. I am also glad for my choice of moving my concentration from supply chain management to international marketing and business. With my interest in international trading and global cultural, this transition provides me a broader platform to fulfill my career goal to comprehend international conflicts and to promote global conversation and fair trading.

As a Chinese origin, I of course will pay more attention to the growth of Chinese economy and its relationship with other nations. Recent frictions between Chinese and U.S. over Chinese currency appreciation and penalty tariffs against each other draw my attention. As an advocate of fair trading, I hate to see this kind of political game between nations which only hurt businesses and consumers as a result, especially between two important trading partners. However, there are too many misconceptions and misleading information regarding the root causes of job loss in American manufacturing, China obviously became an easy target to blame and be used as a scheme for political goals.

There are also much focus on the growth of China and many articles have discussed this new challenge to China. After decades of leapfrog growth, China is facing significant challenge to remain its double-digit annual GDP growth. A very recent HBR blog Will China’s Growth Slow Over the Next Decade by Liu Shengjun points out there are four dividends behind the growth miracle: population, reform, opening and resource. Facing the diminishing return of those dividends, Mr. Liu recommends the following consideration for China to create new dividends:

  • Eliminate discrimination against private enterprises.
  • Further reform state-operated enterprises
  • Promote innovation

Those recommendations are well analyzed and right to the point. However they may not be easy for the Chinese government to make such huge turnaround in the near future. Corruption at all levels of central and local governments will not allow such reform to be easy because many people in power will lose their advantage of authorization and grey income. To encourage innovation, China needs to first fight against the challenge or habit of plagiarism and copyright infringement, and establish a stronger IP protection law. Otherwise, the innovations by the enterprises are not able to be protected thus discouraging their investment in R&D. Overall, China needs a political reform in order to create those dividends. Right now, I do not see such push from the central government.

What will happen among nations and how will China and the U.S. can grow together? I do not know yet. We are now living in a flat but quite complicated world. I hope my future studies will soon bring me more knowledge to solve those puzzles regarding global trade issues and challenges. And of course, I wish to see my future research contributing to a “flatter world”.  I will keep everyone posted!

04/26/10

Intellectual Property Challenge in China

It wasn’t for the project which I am currently working on for a China plant tissue culture (TC) company, I would never have experienced the challenge from the weakness of Intellectual Property (IP) protection in the Chinese market.

It is the first time that I am working so closely on IP issues in China. The plant Tissue Culture company, Jin Bei (aka, JBSbio), based in Shanghai, China, has been focused in the Chinese domestic market for the past two decades. They have been very successful as a market leader in the region with a reputation of reliable high quality. Last year, with a new investment of $4.5 million into world class new equipment, the company was ready to expand into the overseas market. Through a friend’s connection, they asked me to help them break into the U.S. market.

I have been traveling for the company to meet the potential clients, not only to promote the propagation service that the company can provide with its’ Tissue Culture technology, but also to connect with the U.S companies who are interested in getting their products into the Chinese market. With the booming economy in China, needs for gardening and landscape are booming as well, in parallel with the rising market of housing and public construction.

So anyone would think that selling into China will be an easy task once we have good products. The answer is no, absolutely not, because of the weak protection of intellectual property in China. Piracy in China is not something new. It’s sad for me to say this as a Chinese, but China has a reputation of counterfeiting design or content of patented products. We are all familiar with those knock-off products such as luxury handbags, watches, electronics, and clothing. The knock-offs are sold at a much lower price, so consumers can choose to pay much less for fake premium products if quality is not a concern to them.  There are even some tragedies that people consumed counterfeit food and were poisoned! Many foreign companies come to China and have been fully challenged by the culture of deficient IP awareness. So, China, a country of invention only in ancient times, becomes a well-known country of “stealing” IP. Even though more regulations and laws are created after China entered the WTO, the IP control has not become easier for many investors.

I am facing a huge obstacle to introduce new horticultural products into the Chinese market.  Breeders normally spend thousands upon thousands of dollars in developing a new plant variety through years of experiments and growing. That is why we can see more and more beautiful, colorful plants around us. In the past 30 years, the IP regulation has been well developed in U.S. so most businesses are playing the game by the rules. However, the Chinese market is like the Wild West, which can be easily out of control for horticulture products. Think about it, any plant grower can take a branch of a plant and duplicate it through cutting technology. Learning from the painful experience of losing IP in the Chinese market, some companies choose to give up on China altogether, or only bring to market the second tier quality products, which in result make my objective of introducing new products to the Chinese market more challenging! When I see those beautiful new flowers and plants which can be easily duplicated, I can’t help to feel regret about the fact that Chinese consumers may not have much chance to enjoy those nice and beautiful flowers in the near future.

However, the existence of risk does not mean one should not take any risk at all. Actually it is a good thing the Intellectual Property issue is not a hidden risk so we all know it is out there and we just need to take more cautious approach when we go to the market. The following are my suggestions on how to deal with the IP issues in China:

First, choose a reliable partner with a good reputation. It may not be an easy thing sometimes because Chinese hardly says “No” to opportunities. So, if a company tells you “No” for some reason, it is actually a good sign that this company is doing business honestly. At the same time, spend time to research the background of the potential partner, to visit their facility, and to observe how the owner or manager works and treats their employees. A company that treats their employees well will also respect their business partners, which is potentially a long-term trustworthy business partner. Don’t feel frustrated if you have a bad experience in the Chinese market. There are plenty of honest businesses out there looking for a long term partnership.

Second, utilize key technology to prevent easy counterfeiting especially when R&D is a big part of the product development. Intel is a great example for this approach. No one can counterfeit their CPU due to their technology.  A company can develop complex products unique characters from which core technology cannot be duplicated.

The third approach is to use the trade mark and a branding strategy. Believe it or not, China has a culture of brand awareness and will pay a premium for a brand which is associated with high quality and a high social status. Not to mention those well-know consumer goods, JBSbio, the Chinese Tissue Culture company, uses the branding strategy for their own breeds and has been successful to protect their products in their homeland. The foreign company going into the Chinese market should definitely use a branding strategy at the beginning of entering the new market to establish their name and increase brand awareness.

The last strategy will be entering the market with a second tier product or with products which are going to be out of patent if an IP violation is inevitable.  Charge premium prices at the beginning of market introduction and then lower the price when the market is flooded with knock offs. Meanwhile, introduce the market quickly with new products to sustain its market leader status..

As a conclusion, it can take another decade for China market to have Intellectual Property regulation well enforced. However this obstacle should not become a barrier for any international business to wait for a safer environment and miss the growth opportunity. Understanding the market risk and taking the appropriate approach to go with the flow and capture the opportunity in a new market can be highly rewarding and profitable.