Innovation is a loaded word. Ask ten people to define it and you’ll get fifteen different descriptions. The one thing everyone can agree on is that it’s good to be an innovator. Perhaps that’s why the term was used 8,404 times in press releases issued via PR Newswire in the first quarter of 2015 alone.
But what separates true, life-changing innovation from an over-used buzzword? The answer lies somewhere in the process of bringing new ideas to life between pure R&D and the eventual commercialization and protection of a product. And that’s exactly the sweet spot my team and I have set out to quantify with our State of Innovation report.
The latest edition of our annual State of Innovation report, The Future is Open: State of Innovation Report 2015, analyzed global intellectual property data, including scientific literature and patents, as a window into innovation across 12 bellwether technology areas: Aerospace; Automotive; Biotechnology; Computing & Peripherals; Cosmetics; Domestic Appliances; Food, Tobacco and Beverage Fermentation; Medical Devices; Petroleum; Pharmaceuticals; Semiconductors; and Telecommunications. For each industry, our analysts scrutinized five years of global patent and scientific literature publications, outlining the top companies, research institutions and technology areas producing the highest volume of new innovation.
The results were shocking. By all accounts, we are living in a golden age of innovation. In the last decade alone, we have witnessed the introduction landmark inventions, from driverless cars, to bionic limb reconstructions, to the discovery of the Higgs Boson. Advancements like these are inspiring new generations of innovators, agents of change, and curious minds to dream of a better future.
On the surface, our analysis confirmed this thesis, finding that total worldwide patent volume has reached a record high, with over 2.1 million unique inventions published over the past year. However, when we looked a little closer, we found that year-over-year innovation growth has hit the slowest pace since the global economic recession.
In fact, total worldwide patent volume growth increased just 3 percent over the last year, the slowest rate since 2009. Even more surprising, the total volume of new scientific research decreased 34 percent over the same period, with the largest declines concentrated in the semiconductor industry.
The outlook, however, is far from bleak. While some may look at the slowdown as a sign of things to come, companies around the world are finding new ways to continue to ride the wave of the current patenting boom, while simultaneously preparing for the next innovation explosion. By taking alternative approaches, such as utilizing “open innovation” programs, or diversifying beyond their core competencies, firms around the globe are discovering their own path to innovation doesn’t necessarily move in straight line.
Businesses Embrace “Open Innovation”
As we dug deeper and deeper into the data, some interesting trends about how the face of innovation is changing began to emerge. Across virtually every industry studied, the trend toward “open innovation,” whereby companies partner with academic institutions, individual researchers and other companies (in some cases, even competitors) has been on visible display. The ability to cull ideas from inside and outside one’s company has granted some firms a refreshing new way of thinking, as they have opened up their patents to a set of fresh eyes in order to gain new insights.
Samsung, for example, has moved to aggressively partner with academic institutions in the development of these technologies, filing 129.1 of every 10,000 patent filings in the semiconductor space jointly with an academic institution. As a result, they are the largest semiconductor patent assignee in the world.
Traditional Industry Lines Blur
Another significant trend taking shape right now is the blurring of lines between traditional industry boundaries. Driven largely by the rise of the Internet of Things, the traditional boundaries between industries and companies’ areas of specialization have continued to blur. Dozens of firms featured in the study, such as Apple, Du Pont, General Electric, IBM, and Samsung, appear among the top patent assignees in multiple industries outside of their core areas of focus.
Samsung is the most extreme example, ranking among the top 25 patent assignees in 9 of the 12 industries analyzed in the study. Not coming as much of a surprise, the company takes the top spot in Computing & Peripherals, Telecomm, and Semiconductors. But it also ranks 10th in Aerospace, Domestic Appliances and Medical Devices; 12th in Automotive; 14th in Biotech; and 17th in Pharmaceuticals. A deeper dive into some of these categories reveals the potential future for Samsung. Of the company’s 100-plus basic biotech patents, inventions include cancer treatments, gene-sequencing, biosensors and biochips for disease testing and diagnosis. Even green chemistry – such as biosynthesis of petrochemicals and biofuels – makes the cut under Samsung’s biotech holdings. Whether it’s curing cancer or curbing the effect of global warming, these patents underscore the bet Samsung is making on diversity, and it’s a strategy that could insulate the company from their primary IP running dry.
The New Golden Age of Innovation
While it is possible that we have reached an inflection point in the growth rate of global innovation growth, it is clear that the companies and research institutions in our study are far from resting on their laurels. In fact, through aggressive open innovation initiatives and downright voracious expansion into new industries, companies have actually figured out how to innovate the innovation process.
It’s a fascinating time to be alive, to watch as some of the biggest breakthroughs in human consciousness begin their ascent into the hearts and minds of people around the world.
I hope to use this blog as window into the lifecycle of innovation, offering the stats, trends and insights we’re seeing unfold around the world. I invite you to join the conversation.
This article was written by Basil Moftah from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.