Copycats of Yesterday, Innovators of Tomorrow

In the past, Chinese companies have copied ideas or business models, but in many industries this is still often the case. In the digital economy, too, China’s enormous development began by copying models of large established players. WeChat was formerly China’s WhatsApp; Weibo was China’s Facebook, Baidu – China’s Google and Alibaba – China’s eBay.

In the meantime, however, these Internet champions have further developed the versions of their role models. They have integrated functions from various applications into a one-stop shop app that offers services such as messaging, in-app payment, shopping and much more. These hybrid products offer the user a better alternative to Western offers and are extremely successful in China.

Foreign technology companies are increasingly looking to China for innovation. Applications such as Line in Japan, Gojek in Indonesia, iMessage from Apple or Messenger from Facebook are integrating more and more functions and services into their platforms. Their applications are reminiscent of Chinese one-stop shops.

This development is also evident in the service industry. The extensive use of QR codes in China brought the process back to life in the USA and Europe after it had largely disappeared from the market after 2013. Important technologies such as 5G and artificial intelligence are also progressing very rapidly in China. Another area is railway technology. In China, trains are timely, fast, state-of-the-art and clean – and make domestic flights superfluous for many travelers.

Experts, on the other hand, believe that China still lags far behind in basic research. That’s true. Nevertheless, Western companies should have a clear picture of Chinese innovation in order to maintain their own market share. Research on technology, patent applications and competitive activities in their own industry is advisable; in some cases even the licensing of Chinese IP can be considered.

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