Imitative innovation is defined as gradual innovation activities where an enterprise models the thoughts, behaviors, and products of an innovation pioneer; follows the pioneer to learn his success and failure; buys or decodes the core technology and know-how of original innovation; and improves the original innovation to develop and manufacture its own competitiveness. This process is vital for a developing country’s economic growth.
This thesis research targets the small and medium enterprises in the hardware industry in China, which are in the process of evolving from simple product imitation to original innovation. The research starts with a systematic literature review of both Chinese and overseas research on imitative innovation.
Four research questions are designed: What are the stages of the cycle from imitation to original innovation? At each stage of the cycle, what are the significant characteristics of the product? At each stage of imitative innovation, what are the key problems for the enterprise? With what abilities can an enterprise successfully switch from one stage to another stage?
On that basis, five typical enterprises are then carefully selected as samples for case research. Leaders from these five companies are interviewed, including the entrepreneurs, the engineers, and the technicians who have participated in product innovation. A semi-structured interview format is used to acquire necessary information and material.
According to this research, small and medium enterprises from imitation to innovation should go through a process that can be divided into four stages: the stage of initial independent branding or pure imitation, the stage of OEM learning imitation, the stage of innovative imitation, and the stage of original innovation. The stage of pure imitation usually started after OEM.
This research reveals that leadership is important for an enterprise transiting from one stage to another. Without a clear vision, managers are unable to seek changes. Entrepreneurs need the ability to customize clear strategies and make decisions to facilitate the realization of the company’s technology innovation strategy.
This thesis research can help enterprises in specific industries that are paving a way through imitative innovation to realize at what stage they are, what problems they may have, and what conditions and abilities are needed for a smooth transition from one stage to another. Also, the government can better understand the probable key problems faced by enterprises at different stages of their imitative innovation so that it is able to make fitting policies in accordance with the stages to support those enterprises that are working to overcome difficulties.