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Coronavirus

COVID-19 pandemic speeds innovation shift to Asia: UN

Published: Updated:

The COVID-19 pandemic sped up the shift of innovation from Europe and North America toward Asia, UN world rankings showed Monday.

The Global Innovation Index 2021, from the United Nations’ World Intellectual Property Organization, showed surging performances by South Korea and China.

“The pandemic has accelerated the long-term geographical shift of innovation activities toward Asia, even if Northern America and Europe continue to host some of the world’s leading innovators,” said WIPO.

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While the top four in the global rankings remained the same as last year – with Switzerland leading for the 11th year running followed by Sweden, the United States and Britain – South Korea leapt five places to fifth.

The index found “substantial increases in brand values in Korea, in trademarks being filed, but also in cultural and creative services exports,” index co-editor Sacha Wunsch-Vincent told reporters, citing the K-Pop phenomenon.

The Netherlands, Finland, Singapore, Denmark and Germany round out the top 10.

Meanwhile China continued its progress toward the top 10 and is still the only middle-income economy in the top 30, up two places to number 12.

Wunsch-Vincent said the country’s innovation players were individually strong and China was now trying to connect them better “so that public research feeds into commercial innovation.”

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Turkey (41), Vietnam (44), India (46) and the Philippines (51) are the only other middle-income nations that are systematically catching up.

“Beyond China, these four particularly large economies together have the potential to change the global innovation landscape for good,” WIPO said.

The index ranks 132 economies. Among low income countries, Rwanda leads the way in 102nd place, ahead of Tajikistan (103) and Malawi (107).

WIPO’s index found that countries and businesses increased investments in innovation despite the COVID-19 crisis, in a bid to stimulate post-pandemic economic growth.

Members of the South Korean boy band BTS wear face masks before they take turns speaking at the SDG Moment event as part of the UN General Assembly 76th session General Debate in UN General Assembly Hall at the United Nations Headquarters, September 20, 2021 in New York City. (John Angelillo-Pool/Getty Images via AFP)
Members of the South Korean boy band BTS wear face masks before they take turns speaking at the SDG Moment event as part of the UN General Assembly 76th session General Debate in UN General Assembly Hall at the United Nations Headquarters, September 20, 2021 in New York City. (John Angelillo-Pool/Getty Images via AFP)

Scientific output, research and development, IP filings and venture capital deals continued to grow in 2020.

Companies whose innovations revolved around measures to contain the pandemic and its effects – particularly pharmaceuticals and information technology – redoubled their innovation investments.

However, sectors hit hard by coronavirus restrictions, such as travel, cut back.

“Many sectors have shown remarkable resilience – especially those that have embraced digitalization, technology and innovation,” said WIPO director general Daren Tang.

“As the world looks to rebuild from the pandemic, we know that innovation is integral to overcoming the common challenges that we face.”

Wunsch-Vincent highlighted that beyond top research and development spenders such as Australia, Germany, Japan and the United States, which all increased investments, “seven out of 10 economies still devote less than one percent of GDP to R&D.”

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