The number of patent applications filed per year in a given country is one of the most commonly used indices of innovation. It’s an effective measure because it removes the vagaries of patent offices, which may affect the number of patents granted, and leaves only the work of the inventors themselves.
While the number of patent applications is fairly reliable, it is by no means the only way to measure innovation. Another common measure is “patent intensity,” a combination of GDP and the number of applications, which we explored in a recent Top 5 post. In this post we will explore two other indices commonly used by the WIPO, and the top performing countries.
Resident Filings per R&D Expenditure
It can be useful to restrict the number of total filings in a country to only those that are from domestic residents. This more directly identifies the innovative tendencies of the country’s population, as opposed to an overall indication of economic interest or activity that could be driven by foreign applicants.
The standalone “resident filings” statistic can then be paired with the amount of resources devoted to research and development in each country. This shows the efficiency and success of the R&D in a given country, which can be useful for many reasons, including the attraction of foreign direct investment.
By this measure, the top five countries in 2010 were Korea, Japan, China, Poland, and Ukraine. Korea was by far the most efficient, with 4.1 resident applications per $1m spent on business-sector R&D, compared with only 3 applications per $1m in runner-up Japan. Between 2001 and 2010, China, Turkey, and Poland had the largest increases in patent application-per-R&D ratio, while Chile, Hungary, and Japan had the biggest decreases.
Patents in Force by Origin
The phrase “Patents in Force” simply means the number of patents currently valid. Since patents are usually valid for about 20 years, this is a longer-term indicator of innovation, and a possible control for short-term trends in invention or investment that might skew other innovation indicators.
WIPO publishes data on both the “destination” and “origin” of patents in force. Destination is more an indicator of the relative importance of patent offices, since it shows how many patents have been put in force by that patent office. It is also an extension of how many applications the patent office recieves. Origin, on the other hand, shows how many patents there are in force around the world that came from a given country, regardless of where they were filed and approved.
The 2010 numbers for this measure are interesting not for the countries that are involved—they’re all recognizable as top inventers—but for the distance between the winner and the rest. Japanese inventors had more than 2 million patents in force in 2010, over half a million more than the U.S., and around 1.5 million more than Korea. Rounding out the top five are Germany and China. More than anything, this statistic makes a case for Japan’s preeminence as an innovator in recent years, even as the U.S. receives the most applications and Korea wins for per-capita, per-dollar GDP, and per-dollar R&D spend.
For more perspectives on worldwide patent statistics, check out WIPO’s statistcs page.