China now first in global innovation?

Yet another post about China.  In case you missed the NYT story from a week or so ago:

Having passed Germany (exports), Japan (gross domestic product) and the United States (auto sales) over the past year, China is now poised to lead the world in yet another category: patent application filings.

A new  study released this week by Thomson Reuters says that by 2011 China will likely pass the United States and Japan in new patent applications.

Remember when the story we told ourselves was that China would soak up the low-value-added assembly businesses, while the US would remain the global center for innovation and creativity?  It doesn’t seem to be working quite that way. . .

All of which reminds me of a chilling moment from five years back.  For about 10 years, I used to lead seminars for German young professionals on American culture and American business practices.  Typically, the participants harbored anti-American views, despite making an extraordinary effort to learn more about the US.

During our discussions, it would often come out that, yes, they disliked America, but they needed to study it because it represented the future.  During the last year I taught in the series, I raised this issue, teasing them that, as much as they disliked us, weren’t they drawn to us because we represent the future?  To my surprise, at the time, this last group had a different take:  “You must be joking” one of them replied.  “The future is in China, not here.”