“In the early 2000s, teams of scientists produced 64% of all scientific papers and teams of inventors were responsible for 54% of patents. By the second half of the 2010s, the comparable figures were 88% and 68%.”
Innovative activity is more collaborative and transnational, but also focused on a few large clusters in a few countries. These are among the findings in the latest World Intellectual Property Report, published by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) on November 12.
The report focuses on the geography of innovation, using geocoding based on the addresses of inventors listed on patents and the locations of the authors of scientific articles and conference proceedings.
The report found that, during the period 2015-2017, some 30 metropolitan hotspots accounted for more than two-thirds of all patents and nearly half of scientific activity. The top 10 hotspots worldwide are: San Francisco/San Jose, New York, Frankfurt, Tokyo, Boston, Shanghai, London, Beijing, Bengaluru and Paris. In the U.S., hotspots around New York, San Francisco and Boston accounted for about a quarter of all U.S. patents filed from 2011 to 2015.
The report found that, in general, innovation has become more international in the past 20 years. Before 2000, Japan, the United States and Western Europe accounted for 90% of patenting and more than 70% of scientific publishing. But these shares fell to 70% and 50%, respectively, for the 2015-17 period, due to growth in countries such as China, India, Israel, Singapore and the Republic of Korea.
However, scientific activity remains more widespread than patenting. Many universities and other research organizations in middle-income economies generate large numbers of scientific publications (often in collaboration with partners in the United States and Europe) but these economies account for relatively few patents.
Another key finding in the report is that innovation has become more collaborative in the past 15 years. In the early 2000s, teams of scientists produced 64% of all scientific papers and teams of inventors were responsible for 54% of patents. By the second half of the 2010s, the comparable figures were 88% and 68%. In general, however, international collaboration is still more frequent in scientific publishing than in patenting.
Moreover, the size of teams is growing: in 2017 the average scientific paper involved almost two more researchers than 20 years previously. In patents, the average team number has doubled since the early 1970s. By the mid-2010s, two-third of all inventions were collaborative efforts.
At the same time, collaboration has become more international, led by the U.S. and Europe. In the period 2011 to 2015, the U.S. and Western Europe accounted for 68% and 62% of all international inventive and scientific collaboration. New entrants from other countries mostly collaborate with the United States and Western Europe rather than with each other.
Inventors and scientists within hotspots and niche clusters collaborate internationally more than those outside, particularly when it comes to scientific articles. The report also suggests that U.S. hotspots are among the most connected, even compared to cities such as Tokyo or Seoul which have larger or similar scientific or inventive output.
The report includes two case studies, on the automotive industry and agricultural biotechnology. It also looks at geographical trends in corporate R&D, for example, finding that the proportion of patents with foreign inventors filed by U.S. companies increased from 9% in the 1970s and 1980s to 38% by the 2010s. In the 2010s, more than a quarter of all international patents sourcing by U.S. multinationals had an inventor from China or India.
In the foreword to the report, WIPO Director General Francis Gurry said it shows how “globally intertwined” innovation has become. He added: “The report makes the case for maintaining policy openness and further strengthening international cooperation. Solving increasingly complex technological problems will require ever larger and more specialized teams of researchers. International collaboration helps form such teams and will therefore be indispensable in continuously pushing the global technology frontier.”
The report was supervised by WIPO Chief Economist Carsten Fink and prepared by a team form WIPO’s Economics and Statistics Division. It also draws on background papers commissioned for the report from external researchers. The dedicated page on WIPO’s website provides links to the launch webcast, press release, photos, key findings and interactive maps.