I'll have a post forthcoming sometime soon about a very interesting book on the value of companies being able to imitate and build on the work of others, but there are times when you can see it in action. Jack Everitt
points us to a short, but fascinating blog post by a guy working with contract manufacturers in China. While there, he went around looking at some of the gray-to-black market products built in China with no regards for intellectual property laws and found some unique, but interesting combinations
Walk around the electronics markets in Shenzhen and you'll see these devices. I saw a great iRobot-branded iPad knock-off with the Android character on it, which was a pretty excellent combination of three brands.
But here's one I really liked: the G1-on-the-outside + iPhone-on-the-inside smartphone.
Of course, the traditionalists will be horrified at this sort of blatant "copying," but these kinds of "mashups," while certainly not legal, are actually an interesting way to experiment and potentially innovate, by not being hindered and held back by artificial rules that block such interesting combinations. As the blogger notes:
It's easy to dismiss these products as the work of cheats and counterfeiters, but that is only half the story. A lot of innovation is occurring in the Pearl River Delta, unencumbered by law and protocol. As an entrepreneur here in the USA, it is fascinating to observe this kind of hardscrabble creativity playing out in different ways in different places.
I think this even undersells the importance of understanding what's going on here. China is an increasingly important player in the technology space -- and, yes, much of the work they do today is imitation and copying, but it certainly isn't always that way, and it won't be in the future. Because these firms are able to experiment and innovate, where firms in other countries are blocked, just watch and see how future generations of innovation from China will come out ahead. They have the opportunity to experiment and increment and (most importantly) learn
from what happens when you do that -- while those of us elsewhere are held back for no good reason at all.