There is a general awareness in high-technology industries that companies that spend more on research and development keep ahead of their competitors.
There is a general awareness in high-technology industries that companies that spend more on research and development keep ahead of their competitors. Yet, the West, traditionally renowned for innovation, is currently under attack because of its export of technical jobs to the East.
The big question on everyone's mind is whether the offshoring trend means the end of the West's traditional dominance in technology innovation.
From a manufacturing point of view, the migration of such jobs overseas has been a given, originally for cost reasons. Now, however, the industry is experiencing the impact upstream, on design and technology.
This has long been a global industry in terms of product output. Japan leads the world in optical equipment like cameras, although the West is now fighting back with megapixel camera phone technology. Japan and Korea share the lead in LCD technology, and Japan is likely to lead in the emerging consumer robotics era.
Finally, Asia in general has long held the lead in audio/video consumer equipment, offset only by a small, but determined, showing from Europe.
Two decades ago, there were relatively few technology graduates from Chinese and Indian universities. Yet, those countries now individually award more science and technology degrees per annum than America.
Clearly, the West is justified in making access to such talent a priority, but the real danger comes when the side benefit of lower costs starts to dominate the talent search.
In a capitalistic society, it's natural for jobs to move around the world as companies strive to take advantage of lower-cost regions, thereby maximizing their profits: indeed, shareholders demand it.
What was once just a manufacturing-related issue, however, has escalated to include everything from call centers to software development and intellectual-property design.
The clear risk now is that design, which was once a safe haven for the West, will follow hot on the export heels of end-product manufacturing. And once the Asian design skill set is honed, architectural design and product definition will inevitably follow.
The hiring of Western engineers as opposed to their lower-earning counterparts in the Far East is a decision often made at the lower, department manager level. Those managers are charged with simply delivering new research at a reduced overall cost, and they rarely, if ever, look at the big picture.
Nevertheless, corporations always should keep in mind the long-term importance of maintaining the strategic competencies that they wish to keep in-house.
Another message for Western governments might be that it is time for them to learn how to help make their industries competitive.
Malcolm Penn is the chief executive officer of Future Horizons (Sevenoaks, England; www.futurehorizons.com), an industry analysis firm.