World Intellectual Property Report: Digitalization Driving Today’s Innovation; Green Tech Needs Reboot

The rapid global response to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic shows how innovative activity can adapt quickly to shifting priorities and a similar effect is needed to urgently address climate change, according to WIPO’s World Intellectual Property Report, which probes the complex sets of decisions that direct the development of life-changing innovations.

The report launched today finds that human innovation is inevitable, but its outcomes are not: The direction of innovation is the result of multiple actions by entrepreneurs, researchers, consumers and policy-makers, and society’s needs can change quickly as they did during the fast-spreading COVID-19 pandemic.


With the onset of the pandemic, innovators shifted efforts to address the new realities of remote work, suppressed demand for a variety of services and, critically, the need for new medical products. These include anti-virals and the mRNA vaccines whose quick development benefitted from an emerging platform that was quickly employed to address COVID-19, with funding and other support of governments and a wide range of players in the innovation ecosystem.

This important report helps us understand what we all need to do to ensure that human ingenuity is harnessed and directed efficiently and with the greatest impact towards a range of common global challenges, notably climate change,

said Mr. Tang, adding that governments have a critical role to play:

Governments are uniquely placed to promote innovation, for example, by mobilizing resources, offering a wider perspective of society’s needs and generally creating the right incentives and enabling environment to promote and harness human potential.

Among the report’s key findings:

  1. The report looked at patenting rates over the past century – a period marked by a number of major pulses in innovative activity – and found a 25-fold increase in overall growth, or about 3% each year. This growth was driven by a number of technologies:
    • Innovation in the transport sector doubled in only 30 years to 1925, when it represented 28% of all patents, with a 21% annual growth rate in the period
    • Medical innovation more than tripled in only 30 years upto 1960, when the area represented 7% of all patents, with a 5% annual growth rate in the period
    • Computer and related innovation (ICTs) tripled in 35 years through 2000, when the sector represented 24% of all patents and an 8% annual growth rate in the period
  1. Digitalization is the new big innovation revolution: It is now transforming industries, by changing who innovates, the types and process of innovation.
    • Digital innovation quadrupled in the 20 years upto 2020, when it represented 12% of all patent applications, with a 13% annual growth rate
  1. New technologies can be leveraged to achieve economic development at a large scale. In East Asia, Japan, Republic of Korea and China have each leveraged their scientific capacity, technological capital and skilled labor to fully integrate into the global economy as core and active participants in IT global value chains:
    • By 2020, Japan-based innovators held 25% of the world’s ICT-related patents, followed by Republic of Korea with 18% and China, at 14%
  1. Since the oil price shock in 1973, global innovation in low-carbon emission technologies has growing by 6% annually until 2012, but green innovation has stagnated since then.
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