Singapore climbs the global ladder for patents per capita

16 September 2019

Research from professional services firm PwC has found Singapore to be the 14th-most idea-intensive nation worldwide – with South Korea displacing Japan from the top of the list.

As part of its Global Economy Watch series, professional services giant PwC has dug into the archives to determine the most idea-intensive nation on the planet, with South Korea claiming the current crown and Singapore landing at 14th on the list, up two spots from 2010. Adjusted for population size, the rankings are based on 2017 patent data from the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), which the firm compared with figures from 2010.

Over that period, Singapore has seen its granted patent numbers grow from 359 per million of its population in 2010 to 543 in 2017, pushing it two spots up the world rankings to 14th on a per capita basis and moving the city-state ahead of Norway and Italy. This level of technological innovation and idea creation also sees Singapore ranked ahead of other nations such as the UK, Australia, Russia, and China – the latter of which cracked the top 20 for the first time in 2017.

Countries with the most patents granted per capita

South Korea meanwhile, which sits at fourth on the 2017 list for the absolute number of patents granted (some ~140,000 all up, behind the US, Japan and a table-leading China with a staggering 350,000-plus), has lifted its per capita rate from 1532 per million to 2554 to become the most idea-intensive nation worldwide. Japan, the world leader per capita in 2010, has fallen to fourth spot behind Switzerland and Luxembourg, but has maintained its rate at around 2238 per million.

“Part of South Korea’s success can be attributed to government investment in PangyoTechno Valley (PTV), an innovation hub established in 2011,” state the PwC analysts, indicating that idea creation has more to it that just brilliant minds. “Firms with a presence in PTV have access to tax cuts and low-interest loans, in the hope that PTV can act as an incubator for ideas. Its reputation as the Silicon Valley of South Korea suggests that the model is working.”

Altogether, the number of patents granted around the world has close to tripled since 2000, from just over 500,000 at the time to nearly 1.4 million less than two decades on, which PwC only in part attributes to the more stringent recording processes for patents. Likely a greater factor in the rise was the global financial crisis of 2008, which, in triggering slower global productivity growth, prompted governments worldwide to renew their focus on idea creation.

Correlation between R&D expenditure and idea creation

Here, as might be expected, the PwC analysis found a strong correlation between public and private investment into research & development expenditure and idea intensity, with the top 20 dominated by nations which spent the highest proportion of their GDP on research. “The coefficient is estimated to be around 0.7,” the report states, “implying that around 70 percent of a change in a country’s idea intensity can be explained by a change in its R&D spending.”

“Singapore’s high score on idea intensity reflects its robust intellectual property regime, and long term government policies focused on stimulating R&D as the foundation for a knowledge-based economy,” concludes Henry Goodwin, Digital & Technology leader at PwC Legal International, who added that Singapore should continue to “strengthen its position as a reliable IP hub for organisations seeking access to the fast growing markets of Southeast Asia.”

Another factor of note; regional specialisation, as innovative breakthroughs breed further innovation. In China, South Korea and Japan, three sectors dominate: computer technology, electrical machinery and digital communication, with related patent growth in these countries rising by 11 percent on average per annum since 2010. Indeed, China in 2017 had more computer tech patents granted than the total number across segments for Australia, Canada and Spain combined.