This paper deals with the role of innovation in upgrading within global production networks (GPNs). Because of the distribution of production segments across firms and countries, there is also a distribution of production knowledge. The paper looks at some ways of upgrading by developing economy firms – the roles of distributed knowledge, reverse innovation and new types of innovation, based on frugal engineering in emerging economies. Process changes could also be innovation, though, unlike product innovations, they are easily copied and spread. The paper points out the limits of current reverse innovation and also asks whether the separation of manufacturing from design has increased the speed of innovation. Before concluding, the paper looks at innovation in terms of the ‘adjacent possible’ in evolutionary analysis.