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Origin of term
In English-speaking realm, the term was brought up by former Google's vice president Kai-Fu Lee who is now the founder of the Chinese IT startup incubator Innovation Works, during an interview with Rebecca Fannin. When Fannin mentioned "me-too" products and copycat IT companies in China, Lee argued that it is not fair to call all the successful Chinese internet companies copycat, and "any Chinese companies that merely copies and does nothing else will fail." According to Lee, the successful ones are "those who copy, localize, iterate and 'micro-innovate'."
The earliest use of the term "micro-innovation(微创新)" is reportedly first by Qihoo's co-founder Zhou Hongyi during his speech in 2010 Chinese Internet Conference. Similar to Lee's interpretation of the term, Zhou stressed that "micro-innovation" is not about revolutionary invention of business model or technology but rather customer experience oriented tweaks on existing products. Zhou explained that, to his team, realistically modifying business model, improving product's functionality, or even beautifying user interface can all be called "micro-innovation"
Examples of micro-innovation
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- Tencent's WeChat versus Microsoft's MSN
- Baidu Search versus Google Search
- Sina Weibo versus Twitter
- Diandian versus Tumblr
- Zhihu versus Quora
Critics and controversial
Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry from Business Insider points out that some of the startups funded by Kaifu Lee's Innovation Works such as DianDian and Zhihu are straight clones of successful US companies like Tumblr and Quora. Francis Tan from TheNextWeb and Rakuraku Jyo also made explicit comparison proving Diandian's user interface and functionality are identical to Tumblr's.
- "Li Kai-Fu: The next Apple or Google won't come from China". CNET Asia. Retrieved 21 March 2013.
- "Kai-Fu Lee chats with Startup Asia author". Startup Asia (on YouTube). Retrieved 21 March 2013.
- "周鸿祎：2010年中国互联网大会·网络草根创业与就业论坛演讲" (in Chinese). xyzlove.com. Retrieved 21 March 2013.
- "Zhou Hongyi Talks Innovation, Destruction, and Defense". Tech In Asia. 16 October 2012.
- Gobry, Pascal-Emmanuel (16 April 2011). "The Guy Who Ran Microsoft And Google In China Clones US Startups". Business Insider.
- Tan, Francis (23 February 2011). "Tumblr clone. Made in China.". The Next Web.
- "Former Google VP Kai-Fu Lee Got a Nickname, Start-Copy Lee". Jyo's Note. 15 April 2011.