US-China trade dispute is having an impact on innovation

Global Business

With the trade war continuing, technology and innovation exchanges between the U.S. and China have come under scrutiny. The U.S. alleges patent infringement is one of the major issues. Items like semiconductors, LCD screens and electric motors have also gotten caught in the tariff cross-hairs. But will the tension harm innovation? CGTN’s Mark Niu looks into it.

Startup founder Ethan Schur is using what he calls the world’s most accurate toothbrush.

Grush uses Bluetooth and motion sensors to turn brushing into a video game for kids, allowing them to brush away monsters and send brushing data to both parents and dentists.

Grush is currently headquartered in Silicon Valley’s ZGC Innovation Center, which is backed by the Beijing city government.

“Actually these days, I get invited on all-expense trips to China to do business maybe twice a week,” Ethan Schur, founder & COO of Grush said. “Because we’re here we have so many great opportunities that at this point, we look at each one and we see which one could be the most effective for our business.”

The growing ties between China and Silicon Valley are evident on the street. Just down the road from ZGC, you’ll find the Shenzhen Bay Innovation Centre. And drive a few minutes in another direction and you’ll find Q Bay Center, which is backed by the city of Hangzhou.

In fact, Schur is the only non-Chinese at Grush, which also has another headquarters in China to focus on manufacturing and building the market there.

In the U.S., Grush sells directly to consumers, while in China, it integrates its chips into Chinese brands.

“People are talking about a lot of things, they’re talking about IP theft and all sorts of things,” said Schur. “But that’s not really a concern over here. It’s not who is gonna steal my IP. It’s about who is going to help me develop my product.”

“I have a student from Beida. And she did some research that shows that foreign overseas non-Chinese IP owners actually do better in Chinese courts than Chinese IP owners,” Robert Merges, Professor, Berkeley Center for Law & Technology said. “Protecting IP in China has become easier over the years, so that the Chinese intellectual property courts and the patent office, and all the Chinese IP institutions in China are developing very quickly. And I think they’re doing that not because of pressure from overseas, but because it makes sense at this point in China’s domestic economic development.”

Merges is concerned the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States could expand its traditional role of reviewing defense security-related acquisitions to economic security deals, involving everything from joint ventures to licensing deals.

He said that could not only disrupt the flow of investment capital, but also the flow of talent—like the Chinese students who help build companies in China and the U.S.

“So, when you look at a map of the top internet, e-commerce companies in the world, they are clustered along the Pacific coast of the U.S. and the east coast of China,” said Merges. “It’s not a coincidence. There’s been enormous back and forth. The ideas have been flowing, the capital has been flowing. I think both governments need to be very careful that in the middle of this trade war they don’t damage the ecosystem that has benefited both countries.”

Merges said some key areas the U.S. may be restricting are ones that should be the most open.

He said the fields of AI and autonomous vehicles are ones that benefit most when companies and countries share what they’ve learned. This accelerates innovation and where self-driving cars are concerned and that could help avoid accidents.