MarketLine Blog

Mapping Global Innovation

Technological innovation, often regarded as ‘the great growling engine of change’, has long been synonymous with powering economic development. Equally, through necessity, industrial growth helps to drive innovation and the creation of new technologies. Thus in theory at least, both economic and technological growth feed off each other to sustain and accelerate development. Yet in recent years the opposite has been the case; the global economy has gone through the pains of a financial crisis at a time when patent applications, which are a reasonably good measure of the level of innovation, have surged. In light of this paradox, a new MarketLine Case Study, ‘Mapping Global Innovation – Patent Trends in a Shifting World Economy‘ analyzes where innovation has occurred in the past, where it is currently taking place and whether there are any interesting trends in terms of regional variation and emerging technological categories that might drive future growth.

The report shows that the overriding perception of international innovation resembles a core and a periphery, in which a small and powerful core region of countries has been able to develop a virtual monopoly on the creation of new technologies, due in part to long-term regional advantages as well as better access to capital and skilled labor, in light of greater economic development. The core region of 20th century technological progress has been dominated by Europe, the US and Japan.

Through the analysis of international patent statistics, the study finds that a major shift began in the late 20th century that continues to this day. The proportion of patent grants being obtained by residents of the US and Europe is starting to be outstripped by residents of China, Russia and South Korea. This can be seen in Figure 1 below, which shows chemistry patent volumes in 1980 on the left and 2012 volumes on the right; a darker shade of green for a particular country shows a higher proportion of global patent volumes in that year. There is a clear trend towards an increase in the level of innovation in the Asia-Pacific region. For other categories shown in the report, a corresponding decline in Europe and the USA can also be seen.

Figure 1: Chemistry patent volumes, 1980 and 2012, by country of origin. Source: WIPO patent statistics database, using Google charts.

Figure 1: Chemistry patent volumes, 1980 and 2012, by country of origin. Source: WIPO patent statistics database, using Google charts.


At the same time, there has been a huge surge in the overall number of global patent grants, signifying wider usage of the patent system in general. Interestingly, not all of the BRICS nations have shown such significant growth in innovative output, with Brazil, India and South Africa barely making an impact on international patent statistics. This indicates that these nations may therefore be following a very different form of economic progress or are at an earlier stage of development, potentially with much more room for future growth than the Asia-Pacific region.

The chemistry patent category is of particular interest as it has experienced striking levels of growth in recent years. This may be a signal towards a shift away from electronic engineering as the focal point of much economic growth, to chemistry based industries being the stand out area for future development. Whilst this could give rise to the sixth Kondratiev wave of innovation, it is difficult to predict where a truly transformative change will occur given contemporary processes of innovation, which involve large international collaborations. Nevertheless, it is possible to demonstrate which specific areas of technology are growing the fastest and in which regions.

For more information, see the ‘Mapping Global Innovation – Patent Trends in a Shifting World Economy‘ case study.

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