July 13, 2015 by ...
Talking heads like to claim that China’s Xiaomi is innovative. These claims are backed by dubious research and a strong desire to spill ink about the PRC and drive page clicks. Ah, it would seem as if the media has caught the China flu and want to share it with us.
As I said in the past, they should probably do a little research and tame their oft-irrational exuberance, especially when it comes to Xiaomi and innovation.
Just the facts ma’am
The easiest way to ascertain Xiaomi’s inno-cred, would be to look at their product line. Doing so, would show that most of what the company offers, is proffered by other firms. Lei Jun and crew, are essentially knock off kings.
Another way to understand the state of Xiaomi and its dearth of creativity would be to see what it has done on the patent front. Of course, there is a caveat to this; it takes more time and energy to remove a hangnail then to file and obtain a patent in China. What is more, that hunk of fallen protein is probably more valuable as well. China is the land of ‘junk patents’, as the Economist stated nearly four years ago.
All that is required to obtain one of these Chinese delights is to fill out the paperwork correctly. I am not kidding. I should know, I have a few of them. Be that as it may, one must use an objective measure upon which to base their decision. Absent anything better, your humble author will use the venerable Chinese patent.
Be prepared for the underwhelming truth; simply put, Xiaomi’s patents paucity tells the tale.
Xiaomi started with knockoff designs
Most companies create some value in a product and then file a patent in order to protect that creation. One of the first orders of business is to make something that people desire, and off it in a unique way. This type of thing is patentable and what firms leverage in order to stay afloat.
Microsoft had an OS, Ford had a car, but Xiaomi had nothing. The sad thing is that Xiaomi came into existence in 2009 and was just another ‘shanzhai’ or Chinese replicant. They did not even file for a patent until 2010.
Yeah, imagine that. How do you start a company without a patentable and unique idea, product or process? The answer is simple, it is hard to patent stolen ideas, even if your place of business is China.
Be that as it may, Xiaomi began selling things which it either figured it had no legal right to patent or was not worth selling. This was true for nearly one year and have only gotten marginally better. For example, things never really improved for the firm as they merely had filed for 257 patents up until 2012. In order to understand the insignificance of this number, consider that Google and Apple have filed more than 600 patents for smart car applications alone, but more on this later.
In support of Xiaomi, they have upped their patent purse and to date have filed more than 2000. Setting aside the fact that most of these are ‘utility’ or ‘junk’ patents, as stated in the Economist, one could argue that Xiaomi is getting more creative.
But of course, they are not. For example, Xiaomi considers themselves to be an IOT company, but the vast majority of their patents have nothing to do with web applications. They also like to say they are into the whole ‘smart home’ market, but once again their patent portfolio says otherwise. And based on the fact that they have only filed 9 patents on smart car tech, we can see that ‘smart’ and Xiaomi-anything, are not compatible.
Where does this leave us?
The data tells the tale; Xiaomi is merely another Chinese firm mimicking world class competition and selling on the cheap. Their brother and sister firms-Huawei and ZTE file more patents in a few quarters than Xiaomi has done in five-plus years.
What this means is that much of the hype driving the Xiaomi craze is just that, its hot air. If one has not visited the Xiaomi site nor seen their product then they can be forgiven for thinking that Lei Jun and team are creating some great stuff. After reading this post, that is no longer true.
In order to be considered innovative, Xiaomi first should be made to innovate. Just as we do not call the Cleveland Browns a Super Bowl team, we cannot call Xiaomi inventive. Neither has done anything to support that claim.