The quality of patent filings has fallen dramatically over the past two decades. The rush to protect minor improvements in products or services is overburdening patent offices, slowing the time to market for true innovations and reducing the potential for breakthrough inventions, according to a new OECD report.
The Science, Technology and Industry Scoreboard 2011 finds that patent quality has declined by an average of 20 percent between the 1990s and 2000s, a pattern seen in nearly all countries studied.
Studying patent quality in different sectors has also allowed the OECD to assess which countries are doing best in innovation. The United Kingdom, for example, produces semiconductor and environmental technology patents that are above average in quality. Korea has a competitive advantage in ICT-related innovations. And Germany is strong at innovating in solar energy.
Patents from inventors in the United States, Germany, and Japan are the most highly cited, which suggests they are true innovations being used by many firms in their products to generate further innovations. But while these countries produced about 70 percent of the top 1 percent of highly cited patents between 1996 and 2000, their share had fallen to 60 percent five years later.
The Nordic countries and China, India, and Korea have seen their share increase of highly cited patents. The European Union is leading in clean energy technologies, representing nearly 40 percent of all filings by the late 2000s, followed by the US and Japan. In this area, China now ranks 8th worldwide.
The OECD report ranks research by universities worldwide. Overall, 40 of the top 50 are located in the United States, with the rest in Europe. But a more diverse picture emerges when looking at subject areas. In social sciences, for example, the UK leads with 16 of the top 50 institutions after the US. And there is growing evidence that universities in Asia are emerging as leading research institutions: China has 6 in the top 50 in pharmacology, toxicology, and pharmaceutics. And Hong Kong University is among the best in computer science, engineering, and chemistry.
The US leads the world in research and development, with around US $400 billion of spending on R&D in 2009. China is today second, with over one-third of that total, followed by Japan. The European Union as a whole spent about US $300 billion in 2009.
The Scoreboard tracks trends in science, technology, and industry to understand how innovation is evolving and how countries are positioning themselves in the global knowledge economy. It includes more than 180 internationally comparable quality indicators and provides a broad range of statistics for other major economies such as Brazil, China, India, and the Russian Federation.