Who, What and Where; Countries and the Reality of Innovation

Have you ever wondered which countries are the best at football or rugby, or who produces the best 100m sprinters or long-distance runners? We’ve created World Cups and Olympic tournaments to help us rank participant nations in this quest for understanding. But what about another question, this time around inventions. Have you ever wondered which countries are the best at inventing computers, or who is the best at medical innovations? This question is harder to answer because the variables involved mean we can’t have an Olympic tournament involving the best computer software programmers or engineers around the world. It would also probably be very boring to watch. But there are ways we can get a glimpse at the world’s inventions and the rate at which they are coming out of countries, and you may be surprised at some of the results.

The USA and Silicon Valley have created a wealth of technological inventions in the last 40 years, and most people are familiar with people like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg. Apart from amassing billionaires of dollars from their work, they also have numerous patents to their name. And the chances are you use technology created in America on a daily basis. Norton Anti-Virus, IBM, Dell, Google, Hewlett Packard, the list goes on. But what happens when we look at the number of patents in a technology field like ‘Computing’ and compare to other countries?

By searching using the country code US and the publication date 2019, the user can search using PatBase for all patent families that sit within this criteria. The result is 993,733, an impressive number and reaffirms our perception that America is a place of rapid innovation and advancement. But what do these inventions look like, and what do they cover?

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By clicking optimise on the search results page, users can very quickly see a breakdown by individual technology field.

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With the results here showing that 17% of the 993,733 patent families returned on the initial search involve inventions that have a Kind Code sitting within ‘Basic Electrical Elements’. Second on the list is ‘Electric Communication’ at 16% and fourth at 12% is ‘Computing’. Which means a whopping 45% of patent families from the search involve just these three technology areas. Refining further, the user can see some of the companies earlier mentioned who are named on the patents that sit within the fields they are interested in. By clicking, PatBase allows me to see the full text of each patent document in the family, analyse for keywords, check legal status and explore forward and backward citations via Citation Explorer.

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Let’s look at Germany now, using 2019 in our search criteria and the results are entirely different. Unlike America, the top technological field returned by percentage of the total is ‘Engineering’ at 18%. This was way down in 9th place on the list in America, showing a clear focus in Germany (who have ‘Vehicles in General’ at 14% and in second place) around advancements in automotive and structural fields like these two. So we can see the focus very easily, and what different countries prioritize and choose to invest in. To add, Great Britain has a focus on ‘Medical & Veterinary Science’ which make up 20% of the patent families returned in the results. Australia takes it to another level and boasts 34% of patent families in 2019 sit within the ‘Medical & Veterinary Science’ field, an overwhelming focus in this area.

So Minesoft’s PatBase has given insight into the focus of some of these counties, and some of what they produce in ideas ranked against others. But how good are these countries at inventing things and getting them published? For this, I am going to use population size and divide by the patent families returned in my previous search for 2019. And this was where it got more interesting.

America has a population size of 327 million people and returned 993,733 patent families in the database results. Which means 0.0030 patents were produced per person in the year 2019. Australia returned 135,486 patent families in my search and therefore produces 0.0055 patents per person. Germany sits between them and published 0.0039 patents per person on average in 2019. What you expected? Australia produce patents compared to population size at almost twice the rate of the US! Maybe its time we start telling our sixth-formers and university graduates to look at Sydney and Melbourne instead of MIT and Harvard if they want their name on a future patent.

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PatBase allows the individual professional or organisation to search and analyse patent and non-patent literature whenever they need. It’s a great tool for exploring new ideas and generating new avenues for research, but with its comprehensive and up-to-date Legal Status information, it gives the user peace of mind that the results returned are accurate.