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World Association of International Studies

Post China's Explosion of Patents: Quality or Quantity?
Created by John Eipper on 01/09/19 4:38 AM

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China's Explosion of Patents: Quality or Quantity? (Henry Levin, USA, 01/09/19 4:38 am)

Any discussion of scientific articles or patent applications must consider both quality and where the ideas came from originally. As somewhat of a China specialist who has taught at several of China's leading universities, I can provide some testimony on this.

The first is that Chinese scholars and scientists are under tremendous pressure to produce articles and apply for patents. Unfortunately, analysis of both forms of accomplishment suggest that there is a considerable "borrowing" of intellectual property from the US, which is only thinly disguised. I am preparing classes for this coming semester and cannot get into detail, but I offer a reliable article as well as suggesting that interested readers use Google to check on this topic. The only articles that rave about the quality of Chinese patents are found on websites of Chinese patent lawyers.


JE comments:   The 2018 article from the Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis reports that the majority of Chinese patents are in the "utility" category--meaning, new uses for existing technologies--rather than "invention."  Still, the sheer numbers are worthy of note.  As recently as 2013, China lagged far behind Japan and the US in the number of patents granted.  Now it is in the lead.

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  • Chinese Patents: Quantity over Quality? The Sinek Thesis (Rodolfo Neirotti, USA 01/14/19 3:11 AM)

    As usual, I enjoyed Henry Levin's post (January 9th), as well as reading the article on Chinese patents, grants and comparison with the leading countries.

    I wonder if the subsidies encourage Chinese researchers to prioritize quantity over quality. In addition, I am curious if for the
    same reasons they do not follow the sequence suggested in the following


    JE comments:  Simon Sinek's TED talk suggests that truly innovative leaders focus on the "why" rather than the "what" of their product.  (He cites Apple, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Wright Brothers as examples.)  His 2009 book (one of five) is titled Start with Why.

    Mediocre leaders, in Sinek's view, focus on the what.  Might this hierarchy translate to invention itself?  I'm wondering where Amazon fits in the Sinek model.  Don't we buy from Bezos because of the stuff?

    A very happy 2019 to Rodolfo Neirotti.

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  • China's Scientific Output: "The Economist" (Henry Levin, USA 01/16/19 3:04 AM)

    For those who have access to the Economist, January 12, there is an long article starting on p. 68 called "Chinese Science: The Great Experiment."

    It lauds Chinese growth in science and technology relative to the past, but emphasizes concern about Chinese treatment of intellectual property which is obtained from other countries in clandestine ways or through reverse engineering. Even Chinese scientists agree that it is a numbers game, where "People fabricate or plagiarise papers so that they can pass their annual performance evaluations." Although the Chinese are making great strides to improve, the use of metrics like patent applications or articles is a misleading indicator without measuring the quality of the results and the origin of the ideas.

    This also seems to fit the dilemma of an authoritarian system of measurement and control in an endeavor where thinking outside the box is key. One advantage of the Chinese use of science and technology relative to the West is the focus on application that is paramount to scientific activity.

    JE comments:  The article is below.  Unfortunately, I've been "maxed out" on this month's free Economist content, so I can link it but not read it.


    With China's moon landing, new aircraft carrier (Type 001A--must be a clean sheet design), and the J-20 stealth fighter plane, the Chinese have chalked up one triumph after another in the field of "application."  Just last night on NPR, I learned that Chinese consumers have largely transitioned to a cashless economy, using phone-based payment apps for most purchases.  We tend to think of totalitarianism as less "nimble" than democracy, but the counterexamples are also numerous.

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