With an Eye Toward Innovation, China’s Xi Packs Gov’t as U.S. Lacks Innovation Commitment

By Frank Cullen

Chinese President Xi Jinping recently made his strategic priorities abundantly clear as he stacked the highest levels of government with experts in biotechnology, semiconductors, and artificial intelligence. Officials with science and technological expertise now account for almost 40% of the party’s Central Committee — a feat not previously reached in three decades.

President Xi’s deliberate promotion of these “technocrats” marks a dedicated shift towards the advancement of innovative research and the development of cutting-edge technologies. He recently remarked that “We must regard science and technology as our primary productive force…and innovation as our primary driver of growth.”

This Chinese government shake-up should be taken as a wake-up call to U.S. policymakers that much more is needed to shore up American innovation.

Case in point: intellectual property. IP is the motive force behind innovation, and innovation at the levels required to compete with Xi’s China simply doesn’t happen and won’t occur without a strong and effective intellectual property system.  So how does the U.S. stack up against China in this regard?

This all comes at a critical time for American innovation leadership and competitiveness. While China has taken a number of steps to strengthen its domestic IP system, the United States has taken a step backward from its traditional role as one of the global leaders in intellectual property policy.

Specifically, China has put an increased emphasis on its patent system, both in terms of what is patent eligible and the use of injunctive relief by patent holders seeking redress when their rights are infringed. This stands in stark contrast to a troubling trend in our own nation that began with a series of unfortunate rulings on major patent cases and various legislative proposals that would further weaken the rights of patent holders in the United States.

This is not only an economic concern, but a national security concern as well. As China becomes increasingly competitive in the innovation economy, and our domestic patent system becomes less predictable and more difficult for patent holders to assert their rights, we run the very real risk of ceding leadership in key innovative industry sectors, which could lead to additional risks to our economic and national security.

Moreover, rather than strengthening our IP system to maximally incent investments in innovation, some U.S. lawmakers are actively considering efforts that would undermine every innovation-intensive industry instead.

The United States may be able to keep its position as the world’s leader in innovation, but only if policymakers encourage investment in new technologies by protecting — and even strengthening — existing IP rights. Investment in the kinds of high-risk technologies needed to lead China and the world will only come to pass if the United States upholds a system that incentivizes investments in cutting-edge research and development. America’s IP system can be that incentive — but only if policymakers resolve to support it. 

President Xi has ushered in a new era of science-backed leadership with the aim of becoming a bona fide innovation superpower. Time will tell if U.S. policymakers will respond in kind to this challenge or allow China to out-innovate the United States.

Frank Cullen is executive director of the Council for Innovation Promotion.

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