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WIPO´S 2021 Global Innovation Index just released: the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on innovation ecosystems

Sep 24, 2021

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    Mariella Massaro

    On 20 September 2021, the World Intellectual Property Organization (“WIPO”) along with Cornell University, Portulans Institute and INSEAD, released the 14th Global Innovation Index (“GII”) report. The approximately 200-page report includes a wide range of information about the state of innovation ecosystems in 132 countries.

    In his foreword to the GII, Mr. Daren Tang, WIPO Director General, addressed the impact of the ongoing pandemic on innovation in various economies by stressing certain positive outcomes: “The GII 2021 finds that governments and enterprises in many parts of the world have scaled up their investments in innovation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Meantime, scientific output, expenditures in research and development, intellectual property filings and venture capital deals continued to grow in 2020, building on strong peak pre-crisis performance.”

    Soumitra Dutta and Bruno Lanvin, co-editors of the Global Innovation Index and co-founders of the Portulans Institute, highlighted in their foreword the three major sectors that are currently attracting attention and funding: health, green and digital technology. In addition, they pointed out that “advances and innovations can be expected in critical areas, such as health (for example, genetic engineering), pharmaceuticals (especially vaccines), energy production (with a focus on renewables), logistics and urban design, all powered by breakthroughs in artificial intelligence and quantum computing.” In contrast, sectors such as hospitality and automobiles have decreased R&D investment during the pandemic.


    This year, the GII included a new section, the “Global Innovation Tracker”, which analyzed a select set of indicators: science and innovation investments, technological progress and socioeconomic impact.

    The number of international patent filings was one of the indications of the science and innovation investment, along with scientific publications, R&D expenditures and venture capital deals.

    The global performance of international (PCT) patent filings increased by 3.5 % in 2020, but the growth was not uniform across the globe with a 16% increase in PCT filings from China and a moderate increase from the Republic of Korea and the United States. Instead, most European countries show a decrease in filings.

    In contrast to recent patent trends where digital technologies dominated the statistics, in 2020 the most dynamic technologies related to the heath sector (medical technology, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology). However, it is important to note that “most of the inventions underlying international patent filings in 2020 predate the pandemic. The strong patenting performance of health-related technologies does not, therefore, reflect an invention response to the crisis. Rather, it indicates that the pandemic has led innovators in the health-care sector to upgrade the commercial potential of their recent inventions” (GII 2021, p. 15).

    In the 2021 GII, the top four economies were the same as in the 2020 edition (and they also ranked in the same order): Switzerland, Sweden, the United States and the United Kingdom. South Korea ranked fifth, moving up 5 positions from last year.


    Overall, Nordic countries ranked in the 2021 GII as follows: Sweden (2), Finland (7), Denmark (9), Iceland (17) and Norway (20). Thus, 3 of the Nordic countries ranked in the top 10 globally and all 5 were in the top 20.

    Overall, the GII noted that “Finland has the most highly performing Institutions in the region (2nd worldwide). Sweden leads in Human capital and research (2nd) and Business sophistication (1st), Norway comes top in Infrastructure worldwide (1st)”.

    Taking a closer look at the rankings for Finland, by way of example, it ranks 1 st in Business environment, PCT patents by origin/bn PPP$ GDP and in intellectual property receipts (% total trade). Finland also ranked 2 nd in Institutions and 4th in Human capital and Research.

    What is the “secret sauce of innovation” in the Nordic countries? During WIPO’s 20 September 2021 live stream for the launch of the 2021 GII, Ms. Stina Billinger, State Secretary, Minister of Enterprise and Innovation, from Sweden affirmed that there is no magic formula, but that there are three factors that she believes contribute to Sweden’s success:

    1) Building societal trust that allows entrepreneurs to take risks and innovate

    2) Investing in people (through education and the welfare system)

    3) Ensuring gender equality

    These factors are common to all Nordic countries and it is reasonable to extend Ms. Billinger’s comments to the Nordic region as a whole.

    Indeed, the dynamic nature of the Nordic region is also confirmed by the 2021 European Innovation Scoreboard (see our previous article here), where the top 3 European countries were Sweden, Finland and Denmark. Each of these countries are innovation leaders in the European Union and globally.


    Mariella Massaro, Certified Licensing Professional, IP Strategist, International Client Relations

    Robert Alderson, International Business Development, US Patent Attorney, European Patent Attorney

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