Innovation is essential in order to survive in global competition. More than ever this is true in the age of COVID-19. However, Europe is lagging further and further behind in comparison with other world regions such as North America or East Asia. This is put forward in a study on #world_class_patents in 58 cutting-edge technologies. One possible approach to improve this situation: More European cooperation!
Why the focus on world class patents?
World class patents are those top ten percent of patents from the active patent portfolio which are classified as most significant based on the two criteria “market coverage” and “citations with national patent offices”. The study looks at these world class patents in a nuanced way by considering 58 cutting-edge technologies that will have a major impact on economy and society in the years to come. To make major developments more comprehensible, they are assigned to ten technology fields over the years 2000 to 2019.
European weaknesses, European strengths
Over the last twenty years, compared to other world regions, Europe as a whole has lost innovative strength in key future technologies. The greatest weakness is in the field of digitalization. In the corresponding technologies such as quantum computing, blockchain, or artificial intelligence, Europe has remained at a weak level over the entire period from 2000 to 2019. Brexit is a particularly serious issue in this technology field as the UK is the strongest European player in digitalization.
But where there is shadow, there is also light. In particular, the area of health technologies, which has become even more important as a result of the corona crisis, especially through vaccine discussions, shows a large number of European world class patents (Fig. 1).
In other technology fields such as industry or mobility, Europe can draw on old strengths. It is important for Europe to maintain these strengths and to expand them by improving in digital technologies with a cross-cutting function.
Heterogeneity in innovation across Europe
The particularly good patents are very unevenly distributed across the European innovation landscape (Fig. 2). While Switzerland can boast more than 1,000 world class patents per one million inhabitants, many Eastern European countries exhibit less than a hundred.
These large disparities in world class patents could also hamper economic convergence processes in the long-term. In this respect, support for European states with weaker research capabilities could pay off with regard to more equal living conditions and thus greater European cohesion.
Promotion of European research cooperation
In addition to a better distribution of research successes among European countries, Europe should be concerned to become more innovative in international competition with the USA, China, and other emerging economies. One solution is to promote research cooperation across Europe because the results on world class patents in future technologies suggest that European countries have a high number of world-class patents in those future technologies in which they cooperate the most (Fig. 3).
A good direction for a unique European path in this respect could be to bring together society and economy in a way that benefits both. Mariana Mazzucato, for example, assumes that the most radical innovations are due to the state and not to private companies.
In the case of radical innovations, it is therefore up to the state to shape them through an active industrial policy and to place them strategically at the service of society.