Asian Economies Make Strides In Innovation

China dominates the world of new patents.

In just two decades, China has come to dominate global patent applications and R&D spending, according to the latest Global Innovation Index (GII), published in collaboration with the World Intellectual Property Organization.

In 2000, China accounted for just 2% of all patent applications worldwide, but by 2017 its share had increased to a whopping 44%. China’s stunning rise to world leadership in patents is just one example of how the innovation landscape is changing.

According to the GII, China led the world not just in patent applications, but also in trademark applications, intangible assets, high-tech net exports, productivity growth and knowledge impact.

The country’s share of global R&D spending reached 24% in 2017, roughly an eightfold increase from two decades earlier. Despite the increase in spending, the Asian giant only ranked 14th overall on the GII—up from 17th last year—but it is still by far the highest-ranked emerging economy on the list.

Switzerland nabbed the top spot in the latest edition of the index, for the ninth year in a row. But a deeper look at the 2019 GII shows how commitment to innovation is rippling through economies of all income levels. The index highlighted countries like Vietnam (42nd), Thailand (43rd) and India (52nd), which are outperforming richer nations in innovation. India rose from 81st in 2015, boosted by its high rankings in human capital, information and communication services exports, and economywide investments.

Amid this progress, there were also some clouds: While global R&D spending has more than doubled in the past two decades, government spending on R&D has stalled. This is of particular concern, the authors warn, because public investment in “blue sky” research is key to future innovations.

Now in its 12th edition, the GII goes beyond the traditional measures of intellectual property and R&D spending to look at categories like infrastructure, human capital, the political and regulatory environment, market sophistication, electricity output, the percentage of women employed with advanced degrees, and the number of mobile apps developed.