The geography of innovation is changing

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Tectonic shifts are altering global innovation, as old divisions between north and south, east and west start to crumble. The traditionally ‘spiky’ innovation map – with peaks of activity in a few countries and regions – is showing signs that it may start to flatten, as developing and middle-income nations raise their political and economic investment in innovation.


In the not-too-distant past, innovation was the preserve of high-income economies. This year’s Global Innovation Index (GII) shows that in 2019, things are much less predictable.


Asian nations continue their spectacular growth in innovation. Together, India, China, Japan and Korea contribute 40% of the world’s R&D – up from 22% in 1996, with Asian economies rising as Europe’s share of R&D falls.


Driven by the R&D powerhouses of China, Japan and the Republic of Korea, the region of Southeast Asia, East Asia and Oceania is edging closer to Northern America and Europe, taking third position in the regional rankings. Other Asian nations are also performing well: Viet Nam, Thailand and the Philippines all progressed this year, edging towards the top 40 most innovative nations.


GII statistics reveal the impressive extent of China’s growth as an innovation nation. China is now responsible for a quarter of global R&D – a massive rise from 2.6% in 1996. Private sector R&D investments from China amounted to 27% of the world’s total in 2017, nearly on a par with U.S. firms. China maintains top ranks in industrial designs, patents and trademarks, high-tech exports and creative goods exports.


Southern bellwethers

Also tipping the map eastwards – and southwards – is India, which continues its massive progress, and this year entered the top 55 most innovative nations. This is partly due to its prowess in ICT services exports, where India ranks first in the world. Given its size, India is set to make a true impact on global innovation in years to come.

2019 marks Israel’s entrance into the top ten most innovative countries in the world, the first time an economy from the Northern Africa and Western Asia region has cracked the top ranks. Israel is now second in the world in R&D, and comes first in a number of other innovation indicators, including research talent in business.

Latin America and the Caribbean is fifth in the regional rankings, but Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Venezuela are among a small selection of emerging economies with top private sector R&D investments. Meanwhile, Costa Rica is among the 18 countries worldwide that are outperforming relative to their GDP.

Africa shines in terms of innovation relative to its level of development. Six of the 18 countries identified by the GII as outperforming compared to their GDP are from the Sub-Saharan region, with Rwanda, Mozambique, Malawi and Madagascar performing particularly strongly.



SOURCE: Global Innovation Index 2019



A golden age of innovation?

The 2019 GII reveals greater global investment in innovation, with more people working on new technologies and ideas to improve our lives, in more diverse locations in the world, than ever before. While the U.S. and Europe still dominate, the global centre of gravity for innovation is beginning to shift to Asia and Oceania. As developing nations continue to put innovation at the heart of their economic policies, we may see further unprecedented changes in the global innovation map next year.


The geography of medical innovation

This year’s GII takes a closer look at medical innovation. In this domain also, the global balance is shifting to include emerging economies from around the world.


Demand for improved health services is driving medical innovation in countries including China, India, Mexico, Viet Nam, Indonesia, South Africa, Nigeria and many others.



Mexico and India specialize in pharmaceutical patents, with India home to some of the top ten global pharmaceutical companies including Sun Pharmaceutical, Lupin and Dr. Reddy’s. In absolute numbers, China is now the most important pharmaceutical patent origin in the world.


Read the 2019 GII to learn more about the innovations that are transforming healthcare around the world.


The Global Innovation Index 2019 is the result of a collaboration between Cornell University, INSEAD, and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) as co-publishers, and their Knowledge Partners, Confederation of Indian Industry, Dassault Systemes, Sebrae, Brazilian Micro and Small Industry Support Services, and Brazilian Confederation of Industry.


Published under Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-ND 4.0) licence. That means you can copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format for any purpose, even commercially, but you cannot change it in any way.

You may also like

View all blog posts