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China Businesses Technology

China's Tech Copycats Transformed Into a Hub For Innovation (wired.com) 95

hackingbear writes: Following similar path of the 19th century America, China has advanced from being copycats to innovators. After its middle class has risen from 4% of population to 2/3 in the last decade, a generation both creative and comfortable with risk-taking are born. "We're seeing people in their early twenties starting companies—people just out of school, and there are even some dropouts," says Kai-Fu Lee, a Chinese venture capitalist and veteran of Apple, Microsoft, and Google, who has spent the past decade crisscrossing the nation, helping youths start firms. Major cities, i.e. Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Hangzhou, are crowded with ambitious inventors and entrepreneurs, flocking into software accelerators and hackerspaces. They no longer want jobs at Google or Apple; like their counterparts in San Francisco, they want to build the next Google or Apple. Venture capitalists pumped a record $15.5 billion into Chinese startups last year, so entrepreneurs are being showered in funding, as well as crucial advice and mentoring from millionaire angels. Even the Chinese government—which has a wary attitude toward online expression and runs a vast digital censorship apparatus—has launched a $6.5 billion fund for startups.
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China's Tech Copycats Transformed Into a Hub For Innovation

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  • A communist venture capitalist... what'll they think of next?

  • China makes cheap copy's / rips off other techs some times on the 3rd shift.

    Some of the components are "3rd Shift", where the employees or contractor may be running the production lines for unauthorized capacity off the books.

    Trump is right we need to stand up to china and make them do more then the token crack down on ripoffs.

    • by invictusvoyd ( 3546069 ) on Wednesday January 06, 2016 @02:14AM (#51246681)
      Maybe the Trump you are talking about is a cheap ripoff made in china . The original is is sitting somewhere on a golden toilet , controlling everything else.
    • So what? Japan used to make poor quality rip offs too. One thing China has going for it is an underdeveloped IP litigation system. Standing up to China won't work. You need to stand up to your leeches - companies that abuse IP protection that stifles innovation.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by guestapoo ( 4136621 )
        Like learning process, one must copy first then innovate later. But not everyone is the same at creativeness.

        Japanese companies' structures are similar to what their ancestor's handicraft workshops. In fact, some of those workshops become today 'companies'.
        That is, the culture of Japan affects how the the 'innovativeness' of Japanese. Overall, the Japaneses want to be respected by their skill of their profession.
        Meanwhile, the Chinese want their name be written in history, their highest desire, no matte
        • Exactly right. Now matter HOW they achieve this. Innovation does not occur predictably. The "any way will do" attitude is what allows innovation to happen.
          • You are right too, but not enough. By individuals, Chinese may be very innovative, just like everyone, but if they live and work inside their culture sphere, it's a different story.
            I read enough Chinese history and know enough Chinese people to know how they work. I do not deny that Chinese are very intelligent, and someday may be Chinese will have some breakthroughs, but not as large scale as Japanese, American, British, Soviet... in the past. (They copied Soviet model, but could not be Soviet (in science
        • Men only truly die when their family line dies. It is through ploughing women, planting seeds in them and nurturing our progeny that we are made immortal.

          To be fondly spoken of by your neighbours descendants isn't immortality, but more reminiscent of being a pig, and having people remember how good you tasted when they consumed you.

      • by Sique ( 173459 ) on Wednesday January 06, 2016 @05:57AM (#51247057) Homepage
        It was the same with Germany at the beginning of the 19th century, with the U.S. at the end of the 19th century, with Japan in the 1950ies and Taiwan in the 1970ies. It always takes some time for a society to learn all aspects of a trade, and until then, it it is mostly trying to copy the perceived leaders. What else is there except asking: How did they do it? and then trying to figure it out by trying it yourself. And if there is not much of intellectual property to protect inside a country, there is no incentive to even have this protection. And even more: the U.S. needed decades after introducing protections for domestic works and inventions, to expand that protection to those of foreign origin. You can read the letters of complaints Charles Dickens wrote when he learned that in the U.S., his novels were reprinted and sold cheaply, and he wasn't able to do anything about it. Only when cheap rip-offs of their own products started to flood the export markets of the U.S., it agreed to allow similar protections to foreigners.
      • So what? Japan used to make poor quality rip offs too. One thing China has going for it is an underdeveloped IP litigation system. Standing up to China won't work. You need to stand up to your leeches - companies that abuse IP protection that stifles innovation.

        In what way does not stopping poor quality rip offs aid innovation?

        By definition, if you're just copying something you are not innovating.

        • Because you have to start somewhere. Americans copied before innovating. The British copied before innovating. Copying is always the first step. No person or country starts innovating without copying others first. That's how humans learn.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      China makes cheap copy's / rips off other techs some times on the 3rd shift.

      You can't have it both ways. One the one hand, /.ers consider copyright and patents (which prevent rip-offs) evil and useless and on the other hand, they complain about China ripping off their tech.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by khallow ( 566160 )
        I missed the memo where everyone was supposed to hold these two views simultaneously.
    • by taniwha ( 70410 ) on Wednesday January 06, 2016 @03:05AM (#51246767) Homepage Journal

      what a bunch of whooey - China has a quarter of the world's population, and a quarter of the world's smart people. Do you really think those smart people are just going to make 'rip offs', when there's more fun stuff to do - Chinese geeks are just like geeks anywhere

      Spend some time hanging out in Shenzhen and you'll see just what you're up against, lots and lots of smart people - your designers in the US are building in China, but they're designing 1000s of kilometres away from their factories, designers in Shenzhen are a subway ride away from them, they can pop over and tweak a process to save money and time to markegt

      Chinese IP law may not be the same as the US's - they're a different country, you know they are allowed their own laws, they don't have to have yours. If they can compete better by not having the US-style copyright nightmare - good for them - without Disney on their backs they can compete far better than you can

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        Chinese goods are already as good as western ones. Look at high end smart phones. You can get a top notch phone, well built, doesn't bend or flex, consumer friendly features like an SD card slot, better software than the crapware loaded devices we make, for about 25-30% the price of western flagships. Meanwhile Apple wants to sell you a three year old phone for silly money.

        Western companies find it hard to compete on those terms and focus on creating luxury brands. Japanese manufacturers do a bit better, e.

        • by MrKaos ( 858439 )
          If you sell your competitive advantage, you shouldn't be surprised or complain when someone uses it.
        • Chinese goods are already as good as western ones. Look at high end smart phones. You can get a top notch phone, well built, doesn't bend or flex, consumer friendly features like an SD card slot, better software than the crapware loaded devices we make, for about 25-30% the price of western flagships. Meanwhile Apple wants to sell you a three year old phone for silly money.

          Whether you're comparing to an Android device from a credible manufacturer like Motorola, or an iWhatever, good luck getting anywhere near as good support with your cheapass Chinese phone. If you're planning to use it for a short time and then resell or discard it, maybe that makes sense. Otherwise I'd rather have something with a name behind it that someone cares about.

      • p>Chinese IP law may not be the same as the US's - they're a different country, you know they are allowed their own laws, they don't have to have yours. If they can compete better by not having the US-style copyright nightmare - good for them - without Disney on their backs they can compete far better than you can

        Imagine for a moment that you earned your living by being creative, that you worked months or years developing, designing, inventing something that was then mass copied, technology stolen, whatever without anything coming back to you as recompense - you then finding yourself competing against the same product or a product with technology copied from you but being sold at 1/300th of the price that you need to get for it just to be able to pay your living?

        I suppose that's probably being your ability to imagin

        • by taniwha ( 70410 )

          but I do - and I go to Schenzhen to build my open source hardware - the thing is it's the first-mover advantage - have a bright idea and get it to market fast. If you build and sell stuff cheaply from the get-go you're less likely going to get nuked by copying,the copiers will go off an copy someone pumping their prices higher

          Luckily I live in a country that doesn't allow software patents - as I said if one doesn't have to have the US's stupid rent-seeking IP laws you have a leg up - the whole TPP et al att

          • but I do - and I go to Schenzhen to build my open source hardware - the thing is it's the first-mover advantage - have a bright idea and get it to market fast. If you build and sell stuff cheaply from the get-go you're less likely going to get nuked by copying,the copiers will go off an copy someone pumping their prices higher

            Luckily I live in a country that doesn't allow software patents - as I said if one doesn't have to have the US's stupid rent-seeking IP laws you have a leg up - the whole TPP et al attempt to force the rest of us into the straight jacket you've made for yourselves is sad, if it succeeds, I'l just reincorporate in China, that's quite doable these days

            That leg up for those who do not observe such IP protection is a leg down for those who create.

            I'm sorry but I don't believe that your investment in time and effort to develop can be very significant if you really don't care that others copy what you do without you getting anything in return.

            Take, for comparison, high speed train technology. China requested the three leading high speed train manufacturers to demonstrate their products in China, China subsequently copied the technology and stiffed the compa

      • Chinese IP law may not be the same as the US's - they're a different country, you know they are allowed their own laws, they don't have to have yours. If they can compete better by not having the US-style copyright nightmare - good for them - without Disney on their backs they can compete far better than you can

        That will change as China develop's its own IP and people start ripping it off; then they will be right up their with the rest o fetch developed world in demanding strong protection and actions against infringers. The argument they used that they need to catch up and can't compete so they have to ripoff others will no longer be seen as valid since it is now them who suffer as a result.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Grishnakh ( 216268 )

        your designers in the US are building in China, but they're designing 1000s of kilometres away from their factories, designers in Shenzhen are a subway ride away from them, they can pop over and tweak a process to save money and time to market

        And this is exactly why we're toast as far as these technologies are concerned.

    • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Wednesday January 06, 2016 @03:47AM (#51246845)
      It's worth pointing out that the U.S. became the industrial powerhouse it is by ignoring European patent and copyright law during the late 1800s/early 1900s, and illegally building tools and products based on European designs.

      I'm of the opinion that IP holders have gotten fat and lazy by manipulating the legal process to extend IP law and duration far, far beyond the point where it's helpful to the economy. And if China can build this stuff cheaper and better by flaunting IP law, then the world will be better for it even if it screws over the IP holders. That's not to say IP is useless. Just that the pendulum has swung too far in one direction, and it needs to be swung back to return us to the point where IP law is benefiting society.
      • Yes, the world would be better IF China can build this stuff cheaper and better.
        In reality, their stuffs are cheaper but not better. And, in the recent years their stuffs are also not cheaper too.

        E.g. judgment by PC components, Chinese and Taiwanese high-end motherboards usually advertise that they are using Japanese solid capacitors. Chinese and Taiwanese capacitors are crap, I experienced with death motherboards, PSUs, caused by bad capacitors, all are consider mid-range motherboards and high-end PSU
      • by Anonymous Coward

        Strengthening IP law (ad absurdum) is an easy sell to politicians, too, though. The US doesn't want to become more like China, it wants to become a third sector economy, or event a yet-to-be-defined fourth sector economy.
        So the US would have all the highest-paying "IP generation" jobs like inventing new technologies, making movies, designing stuff, high-complexity financing, and so on, while the rest of the world can dig stuff out of the ground, grow food, manufacture stuff, and take care of plain old banki

        • And for that it needs strong IP laws internationally.
          And for _that_ it needs insane IP laws domestically.

          Is there some mathematical formula that says IP laws reduce in strength by 57.2% on exiting across a national boundary?

          I must have dozed off in that lecture.

      • It's worth pointing out that the U.S. became the industrial powerhouse it is by ignoring European patent and copyright law during the late 1800s/early 1900s, and illegally building tools and products based on European designs.

        I'm of the opinion that IP holders have gotten fat and lazy by manipulating the legal process to extend IP law and duration far, far beyond the point where it's helpful to the economy. And if China can build this stuff cheaper and better by flaunting IP law, then the world will be better for it even if it screws over the IP holders. That's not to say IP is useless. Just that the pendulum has swung too far in one direction, and it needs to be swung back to return us to the point where IP law is benefiting society.

        Do you imagine that because the Chinese (or whomever) ignore IP that IP law will somehow improve in the west? I don't follow the logic.

        Or are you just saying that it's good that they can flaunt IP law so that you can have cheaper product?

        • Or are you just saying that it's good that they can flaunt IP law so that you can have cheaper product?

          The standard libertarian-capitalist viewpoint on slashdot is opposed to all laws that interfere with business. All IP laws are bad, therefore good luck to China. Also, yes, it is always seen as a good thing that consumers have cheaper products, because the free market will sort it all out anyway.

          • Or are you just saying that it's good that they can flaunt IP law so that you can have cheaper product?

            The standard libertarian-capitalist viewpoint on slashdot is opposed to all laws that interfere with business. All IP laws are bad, therefore good luck to China. Also, yes, it is always seen as a good thing that consumers have cheaper products, because the free market will sort it all out anyway.

            A completely free market, without laws to constrain the greed of corporations and those in power, would have the vast majority of us all living in conditions of squalor, ignorance and disease similar to the situation in low wage countries around the world.

      • It's worth pointing out that the U.S. became the industrial powerhouse it is by ignoring European patent and copyright law during the late 1800s/early 1900s, and illegally building tools and products based on European designs.

        This is incorrect. My understanding is that US IP laws did not protect European works, so US companies were doing nothing illegal according to US law at the time.

        • It's worth pointing out that the U.S. became the industrial powerhouse it is by ignoring European patent and copyright law during the late 1800s/early 1900s, and illegally building tools and products based on European designs.

          This is incorrect. My understanding is that US IP laws did not protect European works, so US companies were doing nothing illegal according to US law at the time.

          Well, presumably the Chinese are not doing anything illegal according to their own laws either.

          • Exactly. People and companies involved in IP seem to keep making the same mistake over and over: believing that IP laws from their country are applicable everywhere.

  • Is china crucial / school system even setup for this? I think a lot of there schools are still big on the TEST parts and not so much on teaching usable skills / have non cramming based tests.

    • You say that, but how many people in the West can truly be said to be innovators either? Most people in the West aren't Elon Musk or John Carmack. Then the social media and online games which only innovate new ways to waste people's time and money. And let's not talk about every web startup that disappears after two years.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        An old government (NASA) engineer that I worked with said there were studies on this and found the number to be about 1:30 for engineers who really create things. Most engineering is grunt work, ie a regular business person who knows how to calculate the required amperage of a given wattage lightbulb. Back in the late 80's/90's I was reading about the emergence of China and how they were going to do well and even overtake the rest of the world based on nothing other than sheer numbers. At the top end, if on
        • I actually grew up on a farm in a third world country and I couldn't agree more. I was awe struck by all the technology (80's) and that without a doubt got me in to this career. The lust obviously wore off over the many decades but it's still a huge differentiator when I see peers who don't share that sense of wonder and curiosity for new tech.
  • Skewed view (Score:2, Interesting)

    Yaknow, the copycatting hasn't changed. In fact, the endless copycats act as a barrier to entry. Why should you go to all the trouble to create a new product and prove a market exists, when all that's going to happen is 100 people open the same company offering the same product?

    This is typical "Wired" journalism - seeing what they want to see, and breathlessly reporting it. Western journalists stick to the major cities. Even a trip to somewhere like Hangzhou is treated as a possibly hazardous excursio

    • by khallow ( 566160 )

      Then there are all the governmental barriers.

      I get the impression there's a lot of people who get around those barriers by not caring. Seems to me that you can dot the i's and cross the t's later when you have a successful business.

      • Re:Skewed view (Score:4, Insightful)

        by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Wednesday January 06, 2016 @03:28AM (#51246811) Homepage Journal

        I get the impression there's a lot of people who get around those barriers by not caring. Seems to me that you can dot the i's and cross the t's later when you have a successful business.

        These barriers are put up on purpose to encourage people to make that mistake. Then if you are successful, the government comes in and makes you an offer you can't refuse on the basis that you're a dirty lawbreaker and if you don't comply they will bust you up and put your organs up for auction.

        • by khallow ( 566160 )

          These barriers are put up on purpose to encourage people to make that mistake. Then if you are successful, the government comes in and makes you an offer you can't refuse on the basis that you're a dirty lawbreaker and if you don't comply they will bust you up and put your organs up for auction.

          Sure, but you'll get the official shakedown even if you obey all the laws. There's no reason to bother until you have something worth extorting.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      What a load of crap. Companies compete by innovating and marketing. They offer new stuff that it takes others time to clone, or they create a desirable brand to rip off consumers.

      There is a lot of money flowing into start ups now. China wants to go the same path as Japan and the US, competing on features and quality while leveraging their manufacturing base. There are a lot of tech start ups having money thrown at them, in the hopes of becoming the next Tencent or breaking into western car markets.

    • by mestar ( 121800 )

      "In fact, the endless copycats act as a barrier to entry"

      Stupid things you read in slashdot comments.

    • These barriers did exist mostly as (mostly failed) measures against frauds, but it hasn't stop Pony Ma from founding Tencent and Jack Ma from founding Alibaba, both of them came from a very humble background. Also they have been eradicated away slowly over the last decade and has been accelerated in this administration since they can no longer rely on old businesses to drive growths. For example, you can file a personal LLC in China with no capital reserved requirements.

  • by Cyberax ( 705495 ) on Wednesday January 06, 2016 @03:45AM (#51246843)
    Is it news? Chinese tech followed this general pattern:
    1) Knock-off 1.
    2) Knock-off 2.
    3) Own invention.
    It's especially visible in such areas as aerospace or high-speed trains. Now most of the tech has moved well into stage 3. Some products are even becoming iconic - DJI Phantom is now seen as a stereotypical quadcopter, for example.
    • by Dog-Cow ( 21281 )

      Shouldn't that be "quadro-typical"? ;-)

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      It goes in cycles. At first Japanese cars drew inspiration from western ones, then they got better than ours and we started copying them. Atari invented video games, and in the 80s and 90s Japan dominated then, then in the 2000s the West figured out how to not suck by copying a few elements. Now the PS4 is a western design.

      • Re:Is it news? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by swb ( 14022 ) on Wednesday January 06, 2016 @07:21AM (#51247235)

        I'm curious about the Jpaanese car thing. The Japanese proved their ability to create a pretty decent *airplane* in the 1940s -- the Zero. This means they had something going for them in terms of design and engineering all the way back to the 1940s.

        The Japanese cars I remember from the 1970s seem to have been pretty well engineered, if rust prone (as were American cars). Their biggest issue in terms of the American market seemed to be a question of size, not quality, and the size thing seemed to be as much a product of the home market's biases (physically smaller Japanese, high population density, expensive fuel) as anything else.

        Yet Japanese cars achieved a high level of acceptance *and* a reputation for quality even in the 1970s, which means that they must have been close to American levels of engineering earlier, which is pretty remarkable considering the fact they got nuked into submission in 1945.

        They certainly seemed better made than all but the highest end European cars -- better than European models like Fiat or Renault or anything the British made on their own (i.e., not stuff made by Ford or GM European divisions with parts or designs inherited from their American parents).

        I'm curious if in terms of Japanese engineering and innovation, the car narrative is one of a lot of copying or whether it wasn't just a question of recovery of the Japanese economy and American market acceptance.

        • Re:Is it news? (Score:4, Interesting)

          by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <mojo@world3.LAPLACEnet minus math_god> on Wednesday January 06, 2016 @08:38AM (#51247407) Homepage

          After the war the Japanese were rebuilding and didn't have enough resources, so cars tended to be a bit flimsy and built with older or lower quality tools. By the 1960s that had changed though. The 1964 Olympics were a real pivotal moment, with the arrival of the world's fastest train (the Shinkansen, a real marvel of technology) and a general effort to push Japanese technology and products to the rest of the world. It just took a bit longer to figure out foreign markets and what they wanted.

          Japanese car manufacturers worked with western manufacturers to learn from them during the 60s, and then improved on what they learned to overtake in the 70s.

        • by KGIII ( 973947 )

          Hmm... That really kind of depends on your definition of good. The Zero was agile, yes. It was relatively inexpensive, yes. It wasn't too difficult to fly but was difficult to fly well - which is why they ran out of good pilots pretty quickly. They had pretty much no armor. They didn't have self-sealing fuel tanks. Hmm... I'm a bit skeptical with "pretty decent" as the terms. Take a look at their firearms during WWII as another example of things I'd not call "pretty decent."

          I guess it's subjective and what

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Just make terrible phone apps, filled with ads and backdoors.

  • Doesn't communism kill all desire to innovate? That's what the capitalists are saying..
    • That is true theory, because China has not been practice communism but capitalism for the the last 30 years. Keep up with the change of the world and stuck with outdated American world view.

  • Seems to make sense on the surface, right? Japan goes from being known for cheap copies to being known for high quality merchandise. Korea too, to a lesser extent. But for decades people have been expecting this of China yet it remains the place for cheap copies. Maybe there's something different about China?

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