Five nations dominate global innovation – WIPO report

Five nations accounted for nearly half of all scientific activity around the world as well as the great majority of patents issued during the three years to 2017.

According to the latest World Intellectual Property Report, China, Germany, Japan, the Republic of Korea and the United States were the dominant countries.

Published by the World Intellectual Property Organization or WIPO, the World Intellectual Property Report is a biennial publication that examines the worldwide creation and flows of knowledge.

This year’s edition has a special focus on innovation networks and global ‘hotspots’, to build on themes that were identified in WIPO’s Global Innovation Index published earlier this year. (See also this recent analysis by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.)

The report highlights the role of academic and public sector institutions in shaping the innovativeness of countries and regions.

It notes that former middle-income economies, such as South Korea and Singapore, are now high-income economies following successful efforts to build top-ranked research universities.

The report also points to the increasing need for public-private research collaborations as well as government policies that support openness and international cooperation.

Collaborative and transnational

To produce the report, the authors analysed millions of patent and scientific publication records over several decades. They concluded that “innovative activity has grown increasingly collaborative and transnational”.

At the same time, however, the report notes that this activity originated in only a few large clusters located in a small number of countries.

In fact, some 30 metropolitan ‘hotspots’ alone accounted for 69% of all patents and 48% of scientific activity between 2015 and 2017. Even then the hotspots were mostly located in five countries – China, Germany, Japan, the Republic of Korea and the United States.

The report’s 2019 edition documents how the ‘geography of innovation’ has evolved over the past few decades to become much more collaborative.

“In the early 2000s, teams of scientists produced 64% of all scientific papers and teams of inventors were behind 54% of all patents,” the report states. “By the second half of the 2010s, these figures had grown to almost 88% and 68% respectively.”

Globally interlinked innovation landscape

The authors say that sharing of research and its findings have also become more international: the proportion of scientific collaborations with two or more researchers located in different countries grew to around 25% in 2017.

For patents, the share of international co-inventions increased to 11% until 2009 but has since slightly fallen, partly because of a rapid growth in domestic collaborations in certain countries.

According to the WIPO authors, most international collaboration occurs among researchers in the top metropolitan hotspots, with those in America being the world’s most connected.

Worldwide, San Francisco-San Jose, New York, Frankfurt, Tokyo, Boston, Shanghai, London, Beijing, Bengaluru and Paris account for 26% of all international co-inventions.

“Today’s innovation landscape is highly globally interlinked,” says WIPO Director General Francis Gurry.

“Increasingly complex technological solutions for shared global challenges need ever larger and more-specialised teams of researchers which rely on international collaboration. It is imperative that economies remain open in the pursuit of innovation.”

Key findings

The report’s key findings are:

  • • Before 2000, Japan, the US and Western European economies accounted for 90% of patenting and more than 70% of scientific publishing activity worldwide. These shares have fallen to 70% and 50% respectively between 2015 and 2017. During this time, activity increased in China, India, Israel, Singapore and the Republic of Korea, among others.

  • • Multinational companies locate their research and development activities in hotspots that offer specialised knowledge and skills. As an example, Google’s headquarters in Silicon Valley only accounts for somewhat less than half of the company’s patenting activity, with Zurich, New York City and London other important sources of inventor locations.

  • • Multinational companies such as Embraer and Infosys are frequently from middle-income countries but they ‘source’ innovation from the top hotspots in high-income economies rather than from other economies in the same category.

  • • There are notable differences in patterns of scientific and inventive activity. Scientific activity is internationally more widespread, with many middle-income economies hosting universities and other research organisations that generate large numbers of scientific publications – often in collaboration with partners in the US and Europe. But those economies account for relatively few patents. Generally, international collaboration is more frequent in scientific publishing than in patenting.

  • • The rise of highly successful innovation hotspots has coincided with a growing inter-regional polarisation of incomes, high-skilled employment and wages within countries.

While other factors have contributed to such regional inequalities, regional support and development policies can play an important role in helping regions that have fallen behind, the report states.