“The study noted that the United States remains the world ‘patent superpower’, but East Asia has developed by ‘leaps and bounds’ in the last 10 years.”
On June 3, independent foundation Bertelsmann Stiftung published a study titled “World class patents in cutting-edge technologies – The innovation power of East Asia, North America and Europe,” which examined how individual countries have advanced in the development and filing of “world class patents” between 2000 and 2019. The study considered “world class patents” to be the most important 10% of patents filed in 58 cutting-edge technologies grouped into the following ten categories: environment, energy, nutrition, infrastructure, digitalization, security, materials, health, mobility, and industry. The study noted that the United States remains the world “patent superpower”, but East Asia has developed by “leaps and bounds” in the last 10 years. The study focused its analysis on East Asia (China, Japan, and south Korea), North America (United States and Canada), and Europe (the 27 European Union countries (EU-27)), noting that countries outside of these three world regions were not considered because they have seen very little growth in the last 20 years.
While the study showed that North America and Europe have the highest patent efficiencies, it noted that East Asia has “exhibited an unparalleled inventive spirit” and has increased its innovation power in many cutting edge-technologies, such as energy, nutrition, infrastructure, industry and environment. However, while many patent applications are filed in East Asia, the share of “world class patents” filed in East Asia’s economies with the greatest patent power, i.e. China, Japan, and south Korea, was actually below 10% in most years between 2000 and 2019. The study noted that China has been striving to produce quality products and has launched the “Made in China 2025” innovation project, which seeks to raise China to the top of the rankings in key economic sectors, including aircraft construction, electric vehicles, and computer chip production. China holds a large number of top patents in 42 of the 58 examined technologies and has particularly excelled in patents in the area of environmental technologies. For example, China holds more than 25% of the world’s patents in recycling and about 36% of the patents in water treatment. China’s regional neighbor, South Korea, has also experienced great growth, especially in the areas of battery and digital infrastructure technologies. Further, although Japan has been experiencing slower growth, it remained the leader in world class patents in batterytech, with a share of over 30%. The study noted that Japan has also been making progress in the area of electric vehicles, and remains steady in the areas of smart factory, robotics and process automation.
The United States is the world’s top innovation center “by far” and holds the largest number of world class patents, which cover 50 of the 58 technologies reviewed in the study. The study noted that United States particularly excels in the fields of health, i.e. biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, and security, i.e. “production of banknotes, passports, and drug packaging, secure access to and use of data on networks using firewalls, anti-virus software, encryption and other measures, and the authentication of persons and objects in the digital world.” The study explained that seven of ten companies that spend the most on research and development are located in the United States, including Amazon and Google. The study also noted that the United States also has the greatest lead in the area of digitalization, which includes artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing, big data, quantum computing, blockchain and virtual/augmented reality. For example, the United States leads in AI with a world share of 45%. Although the study focused much of its North America analysis on the United States, it did note that Canada ranks high in the area of digitalization and has potential to gain strength in the infrastructure field. The study also noted that although North America leads in many areas, China’s growth has exceeded the United States in most areas.
The study noted concerns that Europe is falling behind because digitalization is progressing slowly in Europe “at a time when the fourth industrial revolution is about to fundamentally change the traditional forms of economic activity.” Noting that “Europe is threatening to develop an innovation gap”, the study explained that the application of new digital technologies to existing industries has been lacking. The fact that Europe has fallen behind is particularly apparent in areas such as digitization, batterytech, solar thermal energy, photovoltaics, and environmental technologies such as recycling. However, the study pointed out that Europe remains strong in the area of health, which includes pharmaceuticals and biotechnology. Further, the EU-27, i.e. the 27 European Union countries, holds the world’s top position in the fields of wind energy and functional food. The study also noted that Germany excels in additive manufacturing (3D printing), where it holds 15% of the world’s patents, and robotics.