MODERN SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY IN CHINA: PATENTS, SUPERCOMPUTERS AND RESEARCH

MODERN SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY IN CHINA

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Science poster
China has one foot in the 20th century and another in Middle Ages. The Chinese have built sophisticated nuclear weapons and rockets; Chinese genetic engineers synthesize medicines; and Chinese surgeons perform challenging surgery. But at the same time you can still see peasants planting rice by hand, pulling boats upstream with ropes and mixing concrete with shovels.

China is regarded as a member of the top tier in robotics. It plans to send robotic probes to the moon in the next few years and is working in a robotic lunar rover.

Many Chinese crave anything new. They are fond of gadgets are very much engaged in the world of cell phones, text messaging, gaming and the Internet. The only things that limits them is money.

China is establishing world class universities and research centers and creating large pools of talent in fields such as chemistry and physics that are becoming increasingly unglamourous in `the United States.

For China to advance further, according to an OECD report, it must offer better protection for patents and intellectual property, increase cooperation between the state and private enterprise and reform markets to make them more competitive. As it stands China depends too much of technology imported from abroad.

See Engineers, Labor, Economics

Advancement of Chinese Science

Chinese science is advancing in leaps and bounds and quickly moving to become a major force in both applied and basic research. John Pomfret wrote in Washington Post, “China has invested billions in improving its scientific standing. Almost every Chinese ministry has some sort of program to win a technological edge in everything from missiles to medicine.” In May 2010, China unveiled the world’s second fastest supercomputer, The Shenzhen-based BGI company has sequenced he genes of a chicken, a silkworm, a panda, a strain of rice and 4,000-year-old human remains from Greenland. With the purchase of 128 cutting edge sequencing machine in 2010, BGI alone has come close to surpassing the genetic sequencing capabilities of the entire United States.

China now ranks second behind the United States in the number of research articles published in scientific and technical journals world wide. China is also ranked second only to the United States in scientific research productivity and is on track to claim the No.1 position. The number of published papers by Chinese scientists has increased fourfold between 2000 and 2009, when 125,000 papers published according to Thompson Reuters. By contrast Japan had 78,500 papers published in 2009. According to a report by the Royal Society Science Academy, China rose from sixth to second place in the world’s authorship of scientific research papers between the periods of 1993-2003 and 2004-08.

Research and development expenditures have grown faster in China than in any other big country---climbing about twenty per cent each year for two decades, to seventy billion dollars in 2008. But at the same time China is also a leading source of “junk” patents---ridiculous claims of “inventions” that “are little more than snake oil scams.” Plagiarism and doctoring results are a big problem, A study by Wuhan University estimated that enterprises that specialize in bogus reports made $145 million in 2009. See Education.

Cong Cao, a professor of international relations at State University of New York and expert on the Chinese academic elite, told AFP that China has the “hardware” in terms of research facilities ro succeed. “But in terms of software---whether the system is really ready to produce first class work---I’m still not sure,” he said.

Working in a country with no religious right has also helped China. John Pomfret wrote in Washington Post, “Unburdened by social and legal constraints common in the West, China’s trail-blazing scientists are also pushing the limits of ethics and principals as they create a new---and to many worrisome---Wild West in the Far East. Chinese scientists are forging ahead in fields like stem cell research because they don’t have the legal and ethical concerns that are holding back some foreign scientists. In 2007, for example , Chinese geneticists discovered vast difference in the genetic make up of Africans, Asians and Caucasians and have gained insights into why some people such as Tibetans can thrive on high altitudes while others can’t. [Source: John Pomfret, Washington Post, July 6, 2010]

First Rate Chinese Researchers and Research Centers

Some of the best minds at work in science in both China and the West are Chinese . Seventeen-year-old Zhao Bowen was part of the team of high schoolers that worked out the genetic code for the cucumber in Shenzhen. MIT, Stanford, Harvard and other American, European and Japanese universities are filled with Chinese students doing cutting edge research.

Perhaps most significant is that Chinese students and researchers trained at foreign universities, particularly those in the United States, are returning to China. The national Institute of Biological Science, known as NIBS, which is responsible for half of the peer reviewed publications in China, is led by a director and deputy director that are both returnees from the United States.

See Seat Turtles, Brain Drain, Spies

NIBS also has lots of money and few restrictions, a scientist there who had worked in the U.S. told the Washington Post, “If I had stayed in America, the chances of making a discovery would have been lower. Here, people are willing to take risks. They give you lots of money and essentially you can do whatever you want.”

Another secret to success is keeping some distance from Beijing. Pomfret wrote, BGI, for example, “seems to be insulating itself from China’s Communist bureaucracy...BGI started as the Beijing Genomics Institute in the early 2000s but left Beijing in 2007 after the Ministry of Science and Technology tried to dictate what it could and could not study... The Shenzhen city government offered it millions of dollars in grants and operating expenses to move south. Last year, BGI received a $1.5 billion line of credit from the China Development Bank.

The merits of some of the cutting edge research is debatable. More than 200 institutions use controversial stem cell therapies to treat a variety of diseases, injuries and birth defects although none of the techniques have been subject to rigorous clinical trials and were only regulated by the government in 2009.

Think Tanks with Chinese Characteristics

“In 2009, the China Center for International Economic Exchanges (CCIEE) established a team containing both high-profile retired leaders and nationally pre-eminent scholars and experts, was launched as a “super think-tank.” The idea of a think-tanks is still relatively new in China.” [Source: Erdong Chen, Asia Times, July 18, 2009]

Erdong Chen wrote in the Asia Times, “Though firmly declaring and highlighting itself as “independent”, the CCIEE still carries many features that could hardly distinct itself from the authority. First of all, it is under the supervision of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), which ranks number two among central government departments following the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Such a background naturally generates a great amount of suspicion over whether the CCIEE will be able to operate truly independently. Furthermore, the CCIEE is headed by Zeng Peiyan, the former vice premier of the People's Republic of China. This appointment is not likely to become a signal of the Beijing-brand “revolving door” mechanism. Instead, it is more like a deliberate consideration to promote the authoritative weight of the CCIEE.” [Ibid]

“Most...think-tanks in Beijing work for the government and are within the governmental framework. Particularly, the Central Party School, which is responsible for both formulating innovative ideas and training senior Communist Party and government cadres for further promotions, is usually believed one of the most confidential think-tanks in China. Fairly speaking, Beijing is the center of Chinese think-tanks in terms of both quantity and quality, at least according to the current standards.” [Ibid]

“Due to the more dynamic nature of Shanghai, think-tanks in this metropolis are comparatively more liberal and open-minded. Though they are not independent either and receive most of their funding from governmental agencies, Shanghai think-tanks are less dependent on the government and have been able to maintain a close partnership with business sectors.” [Ibid]

“Chinese think-tanks are actually more remarkable in the city of Xiamen. Located in the Fujian province in southeastern China and frequently mistaken as the provincial capital, Xiamen is at the front line of conducting academic researches and formulating policy initiatives regarding cross-strait issues.” [Ibid]

“Most Chinese think-tanks wear confidential covers and lack essential communications with the public. In fact, few of them are able or even willing to host discussion panels for the public on a regular basis though they are usually supposed to carry the responsibility of educating citizens, explaining and elaborating policies.” [Ibid]

“Due to little amount of independence granted, think-tanks in today's China are more like governmental agencies rather than bridges between the government and academia. Though decision-makers have already realized how important think-tanks could become in assisting the production of high-quality policies, they are still afraid of the risk of letting intellectuals go too far.” [Ibid]

China’s Technology Ambitions

Former Microsoft executive Robert J. Herbold wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “To give you a feel for China's determination to become globally competitive in technology innovation, let me cite some statistics from two facilities we visited. Over the last 10 years, the Institute of Biophysics, an arm of the Chinese Academy of Science, has received very significant investment by the Chinese government. Today it consists of more than 3,000 talented scientists focused on doing world-class research in areas such as protein science, and brain and cognitive sciences. [Source: Robert J. Herbold, Wall Street Journal, July 9 2011]

We also visited the new Shanghai Advanced Research Institute, another arm of the Chinese Academy of Science. This gigantic science and technology park is under construction and today consists of four buildings, but it will grow to over 60 buildings on a large piece of land equivalent to about a third of a square mile. It is being staffed by Ph.D.-caliber researchers. Their goal statement is fairly straightforward: "To be a pioneer in the development of new technologies relevant to business."

All of the various institutes being run by the Chinese Academy of Science are going to be significantly increased in size, and staffing will be aided by a new recruiting program called "Ten Thousand Talents." This is an effort by the Chinese government to reach out to Chinese individuals who have been trained, and currently reside, outside China. They are focusing on those who are world-class in their technical abilities, primarily at the Ph.D. level, at work in various universities and science institutes abroad. In each year of this new five-year plan, the goal is to recruit 2,000 of these individuals to return to China.

Advances by Chinese Scientists

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Long March rocket
Chinese researchers at the Center for Developmental Biology at the Shanghai Second Medical University have grown human stem cells from rabbit eggs. A team led by a woman scientist, Huizhen Sheng, fused human eggs with rabbit eggs which in turn yielded human stem cells, which scientists hope in the future can be used to treat paralysis and help burn victims replace lost skin, among other things.

The Chinese have developed a heat sensitive paint that absorbs heat at temperatures below 20̊C and reflects heat at temperatures above 20̊C. Variations of paint, which use a substance called crystal violet lactone, can change color with the seasons.

In February 2007, Chinese scientists announced that had succeeded in controlling the flights of pigeons---commanding them to fly left or right or up or down---using micro electrodes inserted into their brains.

Chinese scientists have produced a harp-playing robot. Wu Yuli, a farmer who makes robots from scrap metal, pieces of wire and old motors and other stuff lying around his barn, has made 25 robots, which he refers to as his sons. His most advanced one pulls a cart, one step every three or four seconds; serves tea; and lights cigarettes. He sold it for $3,750.

In April 2009, China announced that it would build Asia’s largest stem cell research center. The month before Chinese scientists announced they had created stem cells from mouse skin and used the cells to produce fertile live mouse pups.

Chinese-born scientist Xiangzhong “Jerry: Yang cloned the first farm animal (a calf) in the United States at the University of Connecticut in 1999, three years after Dolly the sheep was clone.

See Automobiles, Transportation, Government and Public Services

Advances in Physics and Supercomputer Technology in China

In May 2010, “a Chinese supercomputer was ranked as the world's second-fastest machine, surpassing European and Japanese systems and underscoring China's aggressive commitment to science and technology. The Dawning Nebulae, based at the National Supercomputing Center in Shenzhen, China, has achieved a sustained computing speed of 1.27 petaflops--- the equivalent of one thousand trillion mathematical operations a second---in the latest semiannual ranking of the world's fastest 500 computers.” [Source: John Markoff, New York Times, June 1, 2010]

“The Chinese machine is actually now ranked as the world's fastest in terms of theoretical peak performance, but that is considered a less significant measure than the actual computing speed achieved on a standardized computing test. The newest ranking was made public on Monday at the International Supercomputer Conference in Hamburg, Germany. Supercomputers are used for scientific and engineering problems as diverse as climate simulation and automotive design.” [Ibid]

“The world's fastest computer remains the Cray Jaguar supercomputer, based at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. Last November it was measured at 1.75 petaflops. In the previous year's ranking, the Chinese had the fifth-fastest computer, a system that was based at a National Supercomputing Center in Tianjin, China. That machine has now dropped to seventh place.” [Ibid]

“The United States continues to be the dominant maker of supercomputers, and is the nation with the most machines in the top 500. The United States has 282 of the world's fastest 500 computers on the new list. But China appears intent on challenging American dominance. There had been some expectation that China would make an effort to complete a system based on Chinese-designed components in time for the June ranking. The Nebulae is based on chips from Intel and Nvidia.” [Ibid]

“The new system, which is based on a microprocessor that has been designed and manufactured in China, is now expected in 2010. A number of supercomputing industry scientists and engineers said that it was possible that the new machine would claim the title of world's fastest.”

“I wouldn't be surprised if by the end of this year they surpass the scientific computing power of the E.U. countries combined and have a computer system with an achieved performance to reach the No. 1 position on the top 500,” Jack Dongarra, a computer scientist at the University of Tennessee and one of the researchers who has organized the twice-yearly rankings, told the New York Times.”

China is competing with the United States, Europe and Japan to build the world’s fastest computer. In 2005, China unveiled a supercomputer than can perform 11 trillion calculations a second. Around the same time researchers at Tsinghua University produced microprocessors that matched Intel’s Pentium III. As of August 2005, China had 19 supercomputers on the list of 500 fastest supercomputers in the world. China has invested heavily in an effort to break the peta-flop computer barrier (1,000 trillion calculations a second) by 2010 and have made the issue a matter of national pride.

China had the world’s fifth fastest supercomputer as of November 2009. The National University of Defense Technology Milky Way at the National Supercomputer Center in Tianjin performs 563 trillion calculations per second. The fastest supercomputers at that time were : 1) the Cray Jaguar at Oakridge National Laboratory in the United States with 1.759 quadrillion calculations per second; 2) the IBM Roadrunner at Los Alamos National Laboratory in the United States with 1.042 quadrillion calculations per second. 3) the Cray Kraken at the University of Tennessee in the United States with 832 trillion calculations per second; and 4) the IBM Eugene at Juelich Research Center the United States with 826 trillion calculations per second.

The Beijing collider---an advanced physics devise housed in a building that takes up a city block---has been at the vanguard of physics research. Electrons and their opposites---positrons---are fired around a 180-meter underground track at nearly the speed of light, crashing together and producing exotics particles critical to advanced physics research. In 2007 the facility was shut down and overhauled to give it the ability to produce 100 time more collisions than it did before. This will enable it to investigate some puzzling questions related to quarks and a quantum property called “charm.”

Astronomers from China and the United States may cooperate on building the world’s largest telescope: the Thirty-Meter Telescope conceived by scientists at Berkeley and Cal Tech, which is expected to completed in 2019.

Chinese Supercomputer No.1 in 2010

In November 2010, China’s Tianhe-1 (meaning “Milky Way-1" ) was named the world’s faster supercomputer after it achieved a computing speed of 2,570 trillion calculations per second. The Jaguar at a U.S. government facility, the previous No. 1, was second with 1,750 2,570 trillion calculations per second. The Tianhe-1 is located at the National Center for Supercomputing I Tianjin. Since it was named No.1 in 2011 it has been displaced at the top by faster American and Japanese machines, namely a rival Japanese machine, the K Computer, designed by Fujitsu.

Ashlee Vance wrote in the New York Times in October 2010, “A Chinese scientific research center has built the fastest supercomputer ever made, replacing the United States as maker of the swiftest machine, and giving China bragging rights as a technology superpower. The computer, known as Tianhe-1A, has 1.4 times the horsepower of the current top computer, which is at a national laboratory in Tennessee, as measured by the standard test used to gauge how well the systems handle mathematical calculations, said Jack Dongarra, a University of Tennessee computer scientist who maintains the official supercomputer rankings. Mr. Dongarra said the Chinese computer “blows away the existing No. 1 machine.” [Source: Ashlee Vance, New York Times, October 28, 2010]

“The race to build the fastest supercomputer has become a source of national pride as these machines are valued for their ability to solve problems critical to national interests in areas like defense, energy, finance and science. Supercomputing technology also finds its way into mainstream business; oil and gas companies use it to find reservoirs and Wall Street traders use it for superquick automated trades. Procter & Gamble even uses supercomputers to make sure that Pringles go into cans without breaking. And typically, research centers with large supercomputers are magnets for top scientific talent, adding significance to the presence of the machines well beyond just cranking through calculations.” [Ibid]

“Over the last decade, the Chinese have steadily inched up in the rankings of supercomputers. Tianhe-1A stands as the culmination of billions of dollars in investment and scientific development, as China has gone from a computing afterthought to a world technology superpower. “What is scary about this is that the U.S. dominance in high-performance computing is at risk,” said Wu-chun Feng, a supercomputing expert and professor at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. “One could argue that this hits the foundation of our economic future.” [Ibid]

“Modern supercomputers are built by combining thousands of small computer servers and using software to turn them into a single entity. In that sense, any organization with enough money and expertise can buy what amount to off-the-shelf components and create a fast machine. The Chinese system follows that model by linking thousands upon thousands of chips made by the American companies Intel and Nvidia. But the secret sauce behind the system---and the technological achievement---is the interconnect, or networking technology, developed by Chinese researchers that shuttles data back and forth across the smaller computers at breakneck rates, Mr. Dongarra said. “That technology was built by them,” Mr. Dongarra said. “They are taking supercomputing very seriously and making a deep commitment.” [Ibid]

“The Chinese interconnect can handle data at about twice the speed of a common interconnect called InfiniBand used in many supercomputers. For decades, the United States has developed most of the underlying technology that goes into the massive supercomputers and has built the largest, fastest machines at research laboratories and universities. Some of the top systems simulate the effects of nuclear weapons, while others predict the weather and aid in energy research. In 2002, the United States lost its crown as supercomputing kingpin for the first time in stunning fashion when Japan unveiled a machine with more horsepower than the top 20 American computers combined.” [Ibid]

Tianhe-1A can perform mathematical operations about 29 million times faster than one of the earliest supercomputers, built in 1976. For the record, it performs 2.5 times 10 to the 15th power mathematical operations per second. Most of the key components in Tianhe-1 are U.S.-designed chips. Mr. Dongarra said a long-running Chinese project to build chips to rival those from Intel and others remained under way and looked promising. “It’s not quite there yet, but it will be in a year or two,” he said.

China Has Homemade Supercomputer Gain

John Markoff wrote in the New York Times, “China has made its first supercomputer based on Chinese microprocessor chips, an advance that surprised high-performance computing specialists in the United States. The announcement was made at a technical meeting held in Jinan, China, organized by industry and government organizations. The new machine, the Sunway BlueLight MPP, was installed in September at the National Supercomputer Center in Jinan, the capital of Shandong Province in eastern China. [Source: John Markoff, New York Times, October 28, 2011]

The Sunway system, which can perform about 1,000 trillion calculations per second---a petaflop---will probably rank among the 20 fastest computers in the world. More significantly, it is composed of 8,700 ShenWei SW1600 microprocessors, designed at a Chinese computer institute and manufactured in Shanghai. Currently, the Chinese are about three generations behind the state-of-art chip making technologies used by world leaders such as the United States, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan. “This is a bit of a surprise,” said Jack Dongarra, a computer scientist at the University of Tennessee and a leader of the Top500 project, a list of the world’s fastest computers.

In the fall of 2010, another Chinese-based supercomputer, the Tianhe-1A, created an international sensation when it was briefly ranked as the world’s fastest, before it was displaced in the spring by a rival Japanese machine, the K Computer, designed by Fujitsu. But the Tianhe was built from processor chips made by American companies, Intel and Nvidia, though its internal switching system was designed by Chinese engineers. Similarly, the K computer was based on Sparc chips, originally designed at Sun Microsystems in Silicon Valley.

Dr. Dongarra said the Sunway’s theoretical peak performance was about 74 percent as fast as the fastest United States computer---the Jaguar supercomputer at the Department of Energy facility at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, made by Cray Inc. That machine is currently the third fastest on the list.

The Energy Department is planning three supercomputers that would run at 10 to 20 petaflops. And the United States is embarking on an effort to reach an exaflop, or one million trillion mathematical operations in a second, sometime before the end of the decade, though most computer scientists say the necessary technologies do not yet exist.

To build such a computer from existing components would require immense amounts of electricity---roughly the amount produced by a medium-size nuclear power plant. In contrast, Dr. Dongarra said it was intriguing that the power requirements of the new Chinese supercomputer were relatively modest---about one megawatt, according to reports from the technical conference. The Tianhe supercomputer consumes about four megawatts and the Jaguar about seven.

The ShenWei microprocessor appears to be based on some of the same design principles that are favored by Intel’s most advanced microprocessors, according to several supercomputer experts in the United States. But there is disagreement over whether the machine’s cooling technology is appropriate for designs that will be required by the exaflop-class supercomputers of the future.

Photos of the new Sunway supercomputer reveal an elaborate water-cooling system that may be a significant advance in the design of the very fastest machines. “Getting this cooling technology correct is very, very difficult,” said Steven Wallach, chief scientist at Convey Computer, a Richardson, Tex., supercomputer firm. “This tells me that this is a serious design. This cooling technology could scale to exaflop. They are in the hunt to win.”

The Chinese-built Tianhe-1A created an international sensation when it was briefly ranked as the world’s fastest. But the Tianhe was built from processor chips made by American companies, Intel and Nvidia, though its internal switching system was designed by Chinese engineers.

Research and Development in China

In 2006, according to OECD statistics, China surpassed Japan in spending on research and development. It spent an estimated $136 billion, ahead of $130 billion by Japan and behind $330 billion spent by the United States. Chinese research and development spending is fueled by the booming economy, the government focus on growth and spending by Chinese companies in sectors such as telecommunications and biotechnology.

China ranks forth in the world in patent applications behind Japan, the United States and South Korea. The number of patent applications in mainland China increased 800 percent between 1995 and 2005.

China employs 926,000 researchers compared to 1.3 million in the United States. Chinese institutions spend 1.2 percent of GDP on research and development compared to 3.2 percent in Japan and 2.6 percent in the United States.

China’s research and development spending grew from $17 billion in 1995 to $94 billion in 2004, doubling in that time in terms of percentage of GNP from 0.6 percent to 1.2 percent. In the same period the number of researchers in China grew 77 percent. The quality of the research is a matter of some debate but the growth is stunning nonetheless.

Many foreign companies are setting up research facilities in China to develop products for the Chinese market. They are also employing more and more Chinese engineers and scientists, who work for a fraction of the salaries paid in Europe, the United States and Japan. At the same time China often tries to get foreign companies to complete projects such as nuclear power plants and fast trains in China so it can acquire their technology and ideally copy it for use in the future.

Zhangjiang High Tech Park in Shanghai is a major center of research and development. Companies here are developing health products and cosmetics based on Chinese medicine, third generation cell phones. Nationwide more money is going into high technology research and development. Spending for biotechnology research, for example, rose from $31.5 million in 1986 to $272.4 million in 2002.

Because American scientists and engineers get paid six to ten times more than their Chinese counterparts the United States significantly outspends the Chinese in research and development but uses less scientists and engineers.

China Becomes Second Biggest Spender on Research

In November 2011, Reuters reported: China has overtaken Japan to become the world's second biggest spender on industrial research and development (R&D), trailing only the United States, a report by the United Nations said on Monday. Chinese investment in R&D rose to 12.8 per cent of the world total in 2009, up from just 2.2 per cent in 1993, according to the report by the UN World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). [Source: Reuters, November 15, 2011]

Investment into research and development, driven by China's businesses and its state-funded universities, easily outstripped money poured in by Germany, France and Britain, countries that were near the top of the list two decades ago. Research and development is seen as a key driver of technology-based industries but spurs growth across all sectors.

Chinese Innovation

Steve Lohr wrote in the New York Times, “As a national strategy, China is trying to build an economy that relies on innovation rather than imitation. Clearly, its leaders recognize that being the world’s low-cost workshop for assembling the breakthrough products designed elsewhere---think iPads and a host of other high-tech goods---has its limits. So can China become a prodigious inventor? The answer, in truth, will play out over decades---and go a long way toward determining not only China’s future, but also the shape of the global economy.” [Source: Steve Lohr, New York Times, January 1, 2011]

Clues to the Chinese approach emerge from a recent government document containing goals for drastically increasing the nation’s production of patents. It offers a telling glimpse of how China intends to engineer a more innovative society. The document, published in November by the State Intellectual Property Office of China, is called the “National Patent Development Strategy (2011-2020).” It discusses broad economic objectives as well as specific targets to be attained by 2015. David J. Kappos, director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, pointed to the Chinese targets for 2015 and called them “mind-blowing numbers.” [Ibid]

Two Million Chinese Patents by 2015?

Steve Lohr wrote in the New York Times, “According to a translation of the document provided by the patent office, China’s goal for annual patent filings by 2015 is two million. That number includes “utility-model patents,” which typically cover items like engineering features in a product and are less ambitious than “invention patents.” In the American system, there are no utility patents.” [Source: Steve Lohr, New York Times, January 1, 2011]

“In 2009, about 300,000 applications for utility patents were filed in China, roughly equal to its total of invention patents, which have been growing slightly faster than utility filings in recent years. But even if just half of China’s total filings in 2015 are for invention patents, the national plan calls for a huge leap, to one million, by 2015. By contrast, patent filings in the United States totaled slightly more than 480,000 in the 12 months ended in September, according to the patent office.” [Ibid]

“China’s patent surge has been evident for years. In October, Thomson Reuters issued a research report, forecasting that China would surpass the United States in patent filings in 2011. “It’s happening even faster than we expected,” said Bob Stembridge, an intellectual-property analyst at Thomson Reuters. Yet if the trend is not surprising, the ambition of the Chinese plan is striking. The document indicates, for example, that China intends to roughly double its number of patent examiners, to 9,000, by 2015. (The United States has 6,300 examiners.) [Ibid]

“China also wants to double the number of patents that its residents and companies file in other countries. Recent Chinese filings in the United States, Mr. Kappos says, are mainly in fields that China has declared priorities for industrial strategy, including solar and wind energy, information technology and telecommunications, and battery and manufacturing technologies for automobiles.” [Ibid]

Strategy to Lift the Number of Chinese Patents

Steve Lohr wrote in the New York Times, “To lift its patent count, China has introduced an array of incentives. They include cash bonuses, better housing for individual filers and tax breaks for companies that are prolific patent producers. “The leadership in China knows that innovation is its future, the key to higher living standards and long-term growth,” Mr. Kappos says. “They are doing everything they can to drive innovation, and China’s patent strategy is part of that broader plan.” [Source: Steve Lohr, New York Times, January 1, 2011]

“The Chinese patent strategy document is filled with metrics, right down to goals for patents owned per million people. It speaks of an innovation-by-the-numbers mentality, much like a student who equates knowledge with scores on standardized tests. “It is a brute-force approach at this stage, emphasizing the quantity of innovation assets more than the quality,” said John Kao, an innovation consultant to governments and corporations.” [Ibid]

“Despite China’s inevitable rise, Mr. Kao said, the United States has a comparative advantage because it is the country most open to innovation. “American culture, more than any other, forgives failure, tolerates risk and embraces uncertainty,” Mr. Kao says. Many innovative products and technologies, he says, will be made elsewhere. “But America’s future lies in being the orchestrator---the systems integrator---of the innovation process,” Mr. Kao said. “Look at Silicon Valley. It is a place where smart people from all nations, all languages and all ethnic groups come together. It’s the capital of innovation assembly.” [Ibid]

Chinese Patents: A Threat o the United States?

Steve Lohr wrote in the New York Times, “China’s strategy is guided and sponsored by the state. Should that be a source of concern for the United States, and perhaps a trade issue? Or is the plan likely to resemble past efforts by other governments to give their companies an edge in global competition?” [Source: Steve Lohr, New York Times, January 1, 2011]

“In the 1980s, the Japanese government was widely viewed as the master practitioner of industrial policy, and Japan Inc. seemed poised to overrun one American industry after another, including computers. As we know, it didn’t turn out that way, partly because of steps taken by the American government and industry. A semiconductor trade agreement was intended to pry open the Japanese market, and I.B.M. invested in a crucial but then-struggling supplier, Intel.” [Ibid]

“More important, however, Japan never became a force in a particularly unruly, imaginative side of computing: writing software. Generalizations are risky, but it seems that Japan, as a society, has not produced enough of that kind of innovative skill, despite being a formidable patent generator. (In that area, Japan is still slightly ahead of the United States by some measures, though Japan’s patent filing pace is slowing.) [Ibid]

“To call Japan’s industrial policy an outright failure would be simplistic. In some industries---autos, machine tools and consumer electronics, for example---it has done quite well. “They are still in the game in those industries and going gangbusters---and we are not,” said Clyde V. Prestowitz Jr., president of the Economic Strategy Institute and a former United States trade negotiator. Still, just how strong a hand government policy had in those successes is open to debate.” [Ibid]

“But it would be a mistake, Mr. Kao said, to assume that China will necessarily follow a path similar to Japan’s. China, he says, is not only much bigger than Japan, but it also has a more individualistic entrepreneurial society, despite its Communist government. Someday, he predicts, China will have its entrepreneurial equivalents of Steven P. Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg.” [Ibid]

Chinese Underwater Exploration

In the summer of 2010, a Chinese submersible set a record by diving more then three kilometers to the bottom of the South China Sea and planting a flag there. The effort was seen as much as gesture of its claim on the maritime region as it was an achievement in underwater exploration but it also had scientific and commercial ramifications. [Source: William J. Broad, New York Times, September 11, 2010]

William J. Broad wrote in New York Times.” When three Chinese scientists plunged to the bottom of the South China Sea in a tiny submarine early this summer, they did more than simply plant their nation flag on the dark seabed. The men, who descended more than two miles in a craft the size of a small truck, also signaled Beijing intention to take the lead in exploring remote and inaccessible parts of the ocean floor, which are rich in oil, minerals and other resources that the Chinese would like to mine.”

“The small craft that made the trip, named Jiaolong, after a mythical sea dragon, was unveiled publicly August 2010 after eight years of secretive development. It is designed to go deeper than any other in the world, giving China access to 99.8 percent of the ocean floor. Technically, it is a submersible. These craft differ from submarines in their small size, their need for a mother ship on the surface, and their ability to dive extraordinarily far despite the darkness and the crushing pressures. The world has only a few. Jiaolong is meant to go as deep as 7,000 meters, or 4.35 miles, edging out the current global leader. Japan Shinkai 6500 can go as deep as 6,500 meters, outperforming craft all over the world, according to its makers. Russia, France and the United States lag further behind in the game of going deep. [Ibid]

China’s Submersible Program

“American experts familiar with the Chinese undersea program say it is unusual in that Beijing has little experience in the daunting field. As a result, China is moving cautiously,” Broad wrote. “Jiaolong sea trials began quietly last year and are to continue until 2012, its dives going deeper in increments. In2011 Jiaolong is to dive to 5,000 meters and in 2012 reach its maximum depth. They’re being very cautious, Dr. Walsh said. They respect what they don’t know and are working hard to learn. In an interview, Dr. Walsh said that the Chinese were especially interested in avoiding the embarrassment of a disaster that ends with the aquanauts’ entrapment or death. If I’m the new kid on the block, he said, I’m going to make sure that I’ve got bragging rights.” [Source: William J. Broad, New York Times, September 11, 2010]

“China splash in the arcane world of submersibles comes after years of singling out major industries and technologies for rapid development. China began its push in 2002. A few Westerners became aware of the guarded effort when China ordered from Russia the forging of a spherical hull about seven feet wide. At the heart of any submersible lies the hollow sphere where the aquanauts work. It houses a pilot and two observers, who can peer out of tiny portholes. Typically, a dive into the abyss is an all-day affair, requiring hours to and from the bottom. [Ibid]

“American experts said China went on a global shopping spree to gather sophisticated gear for its submersible. From the United States, it bought advanced lights, cameras and manipulator arms. Dr. Cui estimated that 40 percent of the craft equipment came from abroad. China also turned to the United States for tutoring. In 2005, five Chinese trainee pilots and one scientist participated in eight dives on Alvin, the oldest and most famous of the world deep-diving craft, which is run by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod. China bought time on Alvin to gain experience, according to the Deep Submergence Science Committee, a group that advises the federal government and universities on ocean exploration.... One of the Chinese trainees was Ye Cong, now a pilot on Jiaolong during its sea trials.” [Ibid]

Chinese Medical Research

Backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Chinese medical researchers, partnered with a firm in the U.S. beat out an Indian team to develop a new test for cervical cancer, that cost less than $5, in 2009.

In 2008, the Ministry of Science and Technology gave researcher two years to come up with 30 new medicines for clinical trials and only few days to apply for money to fund the research. This was even though in the last 60 years Communist China had only developed only one internationally-recognized drugs, the anti-malaria drug Artemisinin.

In April 2010, Chinese scientists at the National Institute of Biological Science in Beijing announced in an article published in Nature that they discovered a gene believed to be responsible for fat growth and obesity while doing studies of genes in different ethnic groups--- Caucasians Chinese, Japanese, and South Koreans---and want to use the finding to design a means of shutting down the gene down in an effort to fight obesity.

Image Sources: 1, 2, 3) Brooklyn College; 4) Banpo archeological site; 5) Landsberger Posters http://www.iisg.nl/~landsberger/; 6) Defence Talk

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated April 2011


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