Lei Jun, CEO of China's mobile company Xiaomi, does his best Steve Jobs at a launch ceremony for Xiaomi Phone 2, August, 2012.
Jason Lee / Courtesy Reuters

No one knows for sure why some societies are more innovative than others. The United States is a highly inventive society, the source of a host of technologies -- the airplane, the atomic bomb, the Internet -- that have transformed the world. Modern China, by contrast, is frequently criticized for its widespread copying of foreign inventions and creative works. Once the home of gunpowder, printing, and other transformational inventions, China is today better known for its knockoffs of almost every imaginable product: cars, clothes, computers, fast food, movies, pharmaceuticals, even entire European villages. The United States gave the world the iPhone; China gave it the HiPhone -- a cheap facsimile of a groundbreaking American gadget.

Some see deep cultural roots to the pervasiveness of copying in China. But a more common view is that China fails to innovate because it lacks strong and stable protections for intellectual property. Many lawyers

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  • KAL RAUSTIALA is Director of the Burkle Center for International Relations at the University of California, Los Angeles, and a professor at UCLA Law School. CHRISTOPHER SPRIGMAN is Class of 1963 Research Professor at the University of Virginia School of Law. They are the authors of The Knockoff Economy: How Imitation Sparks Innovation.
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