Imitation, Innovation, and Technological Complexity: Foreign Knowledge Spillovers in China
33 Pages Posted: 18 Mar 2021 Last revised: 29 Apr 2021
Date Written: March 2, 2021
In the last two decades, the world has witnessed the rise of Chinese innovation. China, once a manufacturing hub for the West, has become a major player in the development of many new technologies. We assess how foreign knowledge spillovers spurred this transformation. To this end, we assemble a rich micro-level data set of firm patenting and accounting information. The aggregate data show that over time Chinese firms have gained leadership over foreign firms in China both in terms of production and patenting. Nevertheless, the aggregate trends mask rich industry heterogeneity pointing to the limits of cross-firm knowledge spillovers. While foreign firms have lost market leadership in low-tech (simple) industries, they have maintained strong leadership in high-tech (complex) industries. Exploring foreign knowledge spillovers using patent citations data, we show that only firms in low-tech (simple) industries eventually decrease their reliance on foreign knowledge for innovation. Our findings suggest that imitation is a path to indigenous innovation only in low-tech (simple) industries and point to the need of industry-specific policies.
Keywords: Knowledge spillover, imitation, innovation, R&D, patents, multinational firms
JEL Classification: F60, F23, O30
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