China has apparently been building a metrics-driven national innovation policy. Moving from a previous status as an imitator, the country now believes it very important to be innovators on their own. Previous anxiety over the country’s failure to respect and protect intellectual property developed and patented elsewhere may now evolve into anxiety over the volume of intellectual property developed there.
Others have pointed to the inevitability of this development. As American and European manufacturers moved more of their manufacturing to China, they also moved the ideas, means and methods of concept generation and development. Indeed, as the interest in Chinese and other Asian markets grew, so too did the interest of American manufacturers in the development of both market-specific products as well as the development of less costly products for global markets. Chinese design institutes, in effect, forced the transfer of knowledge with manufacturing, engineering and architecture. Then, American companies began to open offices, develop engineering and R&D centers, and train Chinese staff in innovation processes.
The Chinese policy, beyond the scale of its metrics, demonstrates the power of focus. It is a policy, it seems, that illuminates for the entire country the importance of innovation in general, the importance of innovation leadership, and the importance of moving from imitation to initiation. Along the way, this policy may also change entirely the perception of the Chinese as consumers only and into one of potentially dominant competitors in product ideation and development.
Does this development mean that American innovation, stagnated by the western economic collapse and otherwise passively offshored, will be awakened? Does a Chinese innovation policy suppress the anxiety in the US around “industrial policy” and provide a catalyst for similar attention here? Can Obama channel Kennedy and awaken the country to a new race to the moon of innovation?