China’s Model of Innovation: Are There Lessons for African Countries?


Innovation is known to be important for productivity and economic growth, while intellectual property rights are, in conventional economics models, thought to spur innovation. Yet China, which averaged over 6 percent annual economic growth for three decades and is often cited as a “growth miracle,” has been criticized for poor intellectual property rights protection domestically, as well as when exporting products abroad.

In Africa, headlines have appeared denouncing cheap copies or fake products from China and their adverse impacts on local manufacturing and other outcomes. Today, the Chinese government and private sector actors feel strongly that China is a global centre of innovation.

Has China’s model of innovation been different to what conventional economic theory suggests? And could a similar model be relevant or appropriate in African and other developing countries?

This note aims to answer three questions:

  1. What is the relationship between innovation, intellectual property (IP), and economic growth? Do patent and other IP right protections lead to innovation and growth?
  2. What led to China’s vast increase in innovation? What is the Chinese model? Did China’s late accession to the World Trade Organization play a role?
  3. What lessons could African countries learn from China’s model?

The note then draws on the results to make suggestions for innovation development across African countries.

This policy note was commissioned by the Center for Global Development. Download the paper from the CGD Website here: download brief

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May 2021

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