Imitation to Innovation in China

Imitation to Innovation in China

The Role of Patents in Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical Industries

New Horizons in Intellectual Property series

Yahong Li

Following decades in which China’s approach to technology has been to imitate, the country is now transforming itself to become innovation-oriented. This pioneering study examines whether patents play a similar role in promoting innovation in China as they do in the West, exploring the interplay between patents and China’s biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries in particular.


John Barton

Subjects: asian studies, asian innovation and technology, asian law, environment, biotechnology, innovation and technology, asian innovation, biotechnology, technology and ict, law - academic, asian law, intellectual property law


Today, China is undertaking what is probably history's most spectacular investment in basic science, especially in biotechnology. Under its 2006 Science and Technology Plan, it has set out an ambitious goal of investing 2.5 per cent of GDP in research and development by 2020. This will require nearly a quadrupling of expenditure. Among the targeted areas are protein science, development and reproductive biology, transgenic plant breeding, and drug development. I China already has more researchers than any other nation except the United States. 2 And China is just developing new plans for bringing more equality to national health care. It is not clear to me, however, whether this investment will be successful in benefiting the Chinese economy or the Chinese citizen in the street. As noted in a recent OECD report, China's 'capabilities for making productive use of accumulated investment in R&D, human resources for science and technology ... , and the related infrastructure have developed much [more] slowly, especially in the business sector,' than has the nation's overall socioeconomic progress. 3 There are many steps in R&D from basic research to the development of products that matter for health care or for food production. At each stage, entrepreneurs and innovators, whether in the government or in the private sector, are needed to take basic ideas, visualize their application, and invest in the research and production facilities needed to tum those ideas into products. China will require an enormous infrastructure of institutions and legislation for this to happen. Intellectual...