The top 2500 corporate R&D leaders increased their R&D spending by 8.9% last year, before the COVID-crisis hit

Friday, December 18, 2020

In the ranking of 2500 worldwide largest R&D investors, a key indicator used in the WIPO Global Innovation Index (GII), the US comes first with 775 companies (€348 billion), followed by 421 EU based companies (€189 billion) and China 536 companies (€119 billion). The 421 EU based companies employed more than 16.8 million people, an increase of 0.2% over the previous year. The continued increase of the number of Chinese companies in the Scoreboard and the exit of UK companies from the EU figures weakens the EU representation among the top corporate R&D Investors, pointing to strategic specialisations and gaps in industrial R&D capacities. These are some of the main findings of the 2020 Industrial R&D Investment Scoreboard published by the European Commission today.


In the face of an ever-increasing global technological race, the top 2500 industrial players worldwide increased their R&D investment by 8.9% last year, maintaining its investment rate from 2018. EU companies account for 14 of the top 50 of corporate R&D investors. Although the growth of EU companies (5.6%) has increased, it is well below that of their Chinese (21%) and the US counterparts (10.8%).


While the EU has an excellent base of key R&D players in medium technology sectors, the Scoreboard shows the need for a higher number and growth of companies in pharma & bio and ICT. Global R&D growth was driven by the US ICT sector (14.5%) followed by the health sector (13.7%). EU R&D growth was driven by automobiles (4.2%), ICT (8.6%) and health (5%). EU companies are competing with the US in aerospace and defence and in the chemicals sector where Japan takes the lead.


The EU is the global leader in high-value green patents with Japan and the US following closely. From 2000 to 2016, the EU has produced around 60 thousand high-value green inventions, about 6 times more than China. The EU and the US have the highest share of high-value inventions, which, between 2010 and 2016, amounted on average to about 60% of all their green inventions. South Korea (17%) and Japan (32%) have lower shares, and only 3% of Chinese inventions are of high value.

The report also includes an analysis of companies’ performance in terms of the UN’s sustainability development goals and evidence of the role played by industrial R&D. The EU and Japan achieve scores of 54 out of 100, China and the US score lower at 42.2 and 38.3 respectively.


The impact of the COVID-19 crisis is not yet reflected in this edition as it uses data referring mostly to 2019. However, history demonstrates the important role that R&D plays in tackling major socio-economic issues and in reinforcing recovery and competitiveness. Indeed, past Scoreboard editions showed that companies which sustained or increased their R&D investment during previous crises emerged with a greatly improved competitive position in the aftermath of the crisis.

The Scoreboard results stress the need to step up the implementation of EU policies aimed at supporting industrial R&D and innovation, particularly in supporting recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, as well as the industrial digital and green transitions.


To access the full report and dataset, please visit:


Background: The EU Industrial R&D Investment Scoreboard is published annually since 2004 by the European Commission (Directorate-General for Research and Innovation and the Joint Research Centre). The 2020 edition of the Scoreboard comprises the 2500 companies investing the largest sums in R&D in the world in 2019. The Scoreboard data, taken from companies’ latest published accounts, comprise key indicators on the 2500 parent companies and more than 800 thousand subsidiaries that enable assessing companies' economic and innovation performance. Compared to the previous one, the main difference in data presentation within this Scoreboard edition relates to the EU’s new membership composition following the departure of the UK on 31 January 2020[1]. Henceforth, in this report, the EU is understood as EU27 (i.e., without the UK).