A survey of innovation in a dozen key technology areas by Thomson Reuters, which is being published today, has found that 6,619 patents were filed in Britain last year, a fraction of the 56,492 registered in Germany and well below the 11,595 filed in France.
Companies from the UK’s two biggest continental neighbours dominate the field of automotive innovation and new cancer treatments, with only two British companies deemed to be competing on the global innovation stage.
Germany accounts for the top five automotive innovators in Europe, led by Bosch. For beauty products, L’Oréal leads the pack in Europe, while France also accounts for the top three cancer treatment innovators.
In Britain, the only companies to feature strongly are Unilever, British American Tobacco and GlaxoSmithKline, although several universities, including Glamorgan, Imperial College London, Heriot-Watt and Reading are listed among the most active institutions in publishing research, regarded as a precursor to patenting.
The findings highlight the fact that, although the UK may be strong in research and development — with its work in graphene a notable example — innovators in other countries are securing patents to protect their inventions at a much higher rate. The number of British patent filings represents 0.3 per cent of the global total, behind France’s 0.5 per cent and well short Germany’s 2.6 per cent.
On the global stage, China continues to outpace its rivals, accounting for 60.4 per cent of the patent filings last year, with 1.33 million. Its nearest challengers were the United States, with almost 240,000, or 10.9 per cent, and Japan, with just over 176,000, accounting for 8 per cent.
Worldwide patent volumes rose by only 3 per cent last year, the slowest rate since 2009, as scientific research fell by 23 per cent. However, the total of 2.1 million inventions was a record high, the biggest growth coming in food, tobacco and beverages, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and biotechnology.
One feature noted by the report The Future Is Open: 2015 State of Innovation is the blurring of traditional industry lines amid the rise of the “internet of things” that connects smart gadgets to each other and shares information about their use.
Many big corporations mentioned, including Apple, DuPont, General Electric and IBM, are among the biggest filers of patents in industries outside their core areas. Samsung is the most extreme example, ranking among the top 25 innovators in nine of the industries that are analysed in the study.