Christian Haessler of Covestro AG – formerly Bayer MaterialScience – can only confirm that China has made enormous progress in terms of innovation. „In the past, we have done a lot of technology transfer from Germany to China, but in the meantime we have a team in China that can do innovation almost at the level of Germany at any time,“ says the manager responsible for sustainability at Covestro and for years that Research Center in Shanghai.
Germany and China are not competitors in the area of research and innovation, but could complement each other perfectly. Germany is still a fantastic technology nation, has „fantastic infrastructures that work very closely with industry, but China is fast, pragmatic and flexible,“ says Haessler on the German-Chinese Business Day, which was held in mid-November by the German-Chinese Business Association in the IHK Cologne was organized. It is important to combine the advantages of both sides.
The example of Chinese company Yanfeng Automotive Interiors, a leading global supplier of automotive interiors, shows that this is possible. While Covestro holds a production and research facility in China, Yanfeng opened an innovation center in Neuss at the beginning of 2018. Why Neuss? „Neuss has two international airports nearby, and is well connected to the rail network and highways,“ explains Zhao Yanning, head of the center. In addition, NRW has a good research landscape, so that the company could draw on the talents at the institutes and universities. Your team consists only of Germans. „We have a very ambitious goal to become the leading supplier of automotive interiors,“ says Zhao in Cologne. As far as the mobile internet is concerned, China has deposed Germany, but in material research Germany still has the edge.
While Yanfeng works on the interior of the car of tomorrow, the Chinese startup NIO is working on the car of the future. The research focuses on autonomous driving. „Anyone who manages to get the car fully autonomous on the road has the authority to interpret,“ says Philipp Kemmler-Erdmannsdorffer, NIO communications chief in Germany. With the technology from Silicon Valley, the design from Munich and the money from China, the just four-year-old company wants to take on Tesla. The smart communications chief sees a difference in innovation between China and Germany: „We have a lot more ‚try and error‘ in China, which goes as far as the startups, which means that we have much more innovation-driven approaches different materials for the vehicle and the various digital solutions.
Whether in China or Germany: If a research team succeeds in breaking through, it is important to have the new technology protected. In China, not only has the number of patent applications exploded, but the number of patent suits has risen sharply in recent years. 99 percent of these are internal Chinese cases, reports lawyer Escher. This shows that the Chinese trust in the legal process.
Not only the inventions are worth protecting, but also the know-how in the minds of the employees. As a result, the relatively high fluctuation of employees is causing headaches for German companies operating in the Asian country. „Every year, one company loses five to ten percent of the workforce – they are know-how carriers, which means that in-house knowledge is easily taken away,“ says Escher. He advises German companies to copy the Chinese and to register the smaller technical advances as patents.