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Drifting towards innovation: The co-evolution of patent networks, policy, and institutions in China's solar photovoltaics industry

: Dominguez Lacasa, Iciar; Shubbak, Mahmood


Energy research & social science 38 (2018), S.87-101
ISSN: 2214-6296
Fraunhofer IMW ()
photovoltaic; China; network analysis; transnational patents

Since 2008, China has become the dominant force in solar cell production in the world. But what about technological development and innovation? This paper contributes to a better understanding of the accumulation process of indigenous innovation capabilities in emerging economies. It empirically analyses the case of photovoltaic (PV) technologies in China between 1988 and 2014 using patent indicators with a comprehensive definition of the entire system value chain. The contribution tracks the technological catching-up trajectory of the PV innovators in China and their collaboration networks against institutional milestones of industrial policy. Theoretically, the research draws on the concepts of innovation capabilities and technological systems. Methodologically, the paper uses patent indicators and network analysis to study patent co-application activities. The analysis shows a gap between Chinas share in the global PV market and its modest share of transnational patents. However, it gives evidence for a gradual technological catching-up in the 1G cell technologies, solar panels, and electronics. This catching-up is being driven by an increasing population of Chinese patent applicants clustered in isolated communities. The role of foreign actors in the co-patenting activities is surprisingly low and decreasing.