Computex includes stands where Acer and Asustek, another local computer-maker, display their latest wares. But it is not so much an IT exhibition as a mall for computer parts. Memory chips, motherboards, disk drives, fans, connectors, casings: each component has its own neighbourhood of booths. The heart of the Taiwanese IT industry is a network of hundreds of small specialised firms that make these things, overnight if need be.The piece goes on to discuss how Taiwan is attempting to handle those issues, at least in IT, with ITRI taking the lead in fostering design, software, and services upgrades. But it does represent another look at how Taiwan's current business model is reaching its limits in many areas.
This strength, however, is also Taiwan’s weakness. Most firms are junior partners in the world’s IT supply chains, making things others have developed. They are good at incremental innovation, mostly related to manufacturing (firms from only three other countries have filed more patents in America than Taiwanese ones over the past decade). But many of them are stuck in a “commodity trap”, cautions Dieter Ernst of the East-West Centre, a think-tank in Honolulu. Profit margins, he says, are razor-thin and do not allow adequate investment in R&D and branding. The Taiwanese industry is particularly weak where the most valuable intellectual property is created these days: in software, services and systems. As a result, Taiwan has a huge deficit in technological trade. Its firms are often sued by Western ones for patent infringements. In March, for instance, Apple filed a complaint against HTC.
What is more, under pressure from their customers, Taiwanese computer-makers have moved most of their production to cheaper countries, mainly China. Yet China is becoming a force in its own right in high-tech innovation and is itself fostering IT giants, such as the Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC), another foundry.
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