New Delhi, Nov 12:) India and China have made clever use of foreign technology--assembling, copying, servicing and customising it--but their firms have ''yet to create too much to rival it,'' says The Economist in a special report.
''India does not need to focus on invention per se in order to flourish. Instead, if it gainfully absorbs, assimilates and uses the technology available in the country, India's economy could transform itself as China has done,'' says noted journalist Simon Cox, who has authored the report.
India dreams of leapfrogging to the front of the technological pack, but there is nothing wrong with piggybacking on foreign inventions, he argues.
The report says Indian and Chinese firms have a comparative advantage in finding new uses for existing technologies and combining them in novel ways.
''This kind of 'architectural innovation' may be scientifically modest but it can nonetheless be commercially significant. This was, after all how Japan's electronics firms came to dominate their market.'' The Economist report asserts that while India and China cherish the idea of pushing back the limits of technology, invention is risky, costly and also frustrating work. Imitation still has much to recommend it.
The report argues that India and China have more to gain from the adoption and assimilation of technology than from invention. The most urgent task for the two countries is to make wider use of the knowhow that already exists, it says, citing India's generic drug makers as an example.
The report maintains that India could resolve not to invent another thing and still prosper mightily. It does not even have to catch up with the world as it has so much to gain merely by catching up with itself by narrowing the gap between its best firms and the rest.
For China's part, its technological ambitions are perhaps too great. Its ''techno-nationalists'' want home-grown technologies that have the right pedigree, whether or not they are right for their consumers. They want to build national champions akin to Toyota or Samsung.
But the report says that China's best firms take a different attitude; they care about winning customers more than winning scientific prizes. The report cites Huawei, China's leading maker of telecom equipment, as a prime example.
India, for its part, surveys the future with uncharacteristic optimism. Its technological confidence has grown immeasurably, thanks to the success of its software and IT firms.
''The heirs to Aryabhatta and Brahmagupta, India's digital ambassadors have won acclaim for their mastery of ones as well as zeroes. But even as India's technological powers make a splash in the world, they stir only the surface of its own vast society,'' it says.
India produces more engineering graduates than America. But it has only 24 personal computers for every 1,000 people, and fewer than three broadband connections.
''India's billion-strong population cuts both ways. Whenever an Indian demographic appears as a numerator, the resulting number looks big. But whenever its population is in the denominator, the number looks small. As of now, India matters more to technology than technology does to India.'' The report concludes that ultimately it will be the countries that are willing to mix and match imported knowledge with ideas of their own that will thrive.