GENEVA - Despite the economic devastation wrought by COVID-19, the new technology sector continued to thrive and prosper last year, the UN’s intellectual property agency said in a new report published on Monday.

According to the findings of the World Intellectual Property Organization’s (WIPO) latest Global Innovation Index, (GII) governments and enterprises in many parts of the world scaled up investments in innovation, demonstrating an acknowledgement that new ideas are critical for overcoming the pandemic.

“We expected a harsh slump in 2020 of around 3 per cent, however, the GII shows there are reasons to be optimistic… with governments showing foresight and not cutting spending,” Sacha Wunsch-Vincent, WIPO Composite Indicator Research Section and GII co-editor, said at the launch of the report in Geneva.

Uneven impact

WIPO warned however that the impact of the crisis has been highly uneven across industries and countries.

In its annual ranking of the world’s economies on innovation capacity and output, the GII showed that only a few economies, mostly high income, consistently dominate the ranks.

However, the Republic of Korea joined Switzerland, Sweden, the United States, and Britain, to make the top 5 of the GII for the first time in 2021, while four other Asian economies feature in the top 15: Singapore (8), China (12), Japan (13) and Hong Kong, China (14).

Selected middle-income economies, including Turkey, Vietnam, India, the Philippines, are also catching up and progress made last year by France (11) and China (12) are confirmed, as both are now knocking at the door of the GII top 10.

Showing resilience

According to a new GII feature - the Global Innovation Tracker - technology, pharmaceuticals and biotech industries, boosted their investments during the pandemic and increased their research and development (R&D) efforts.

Top technology companies like Apple, Microsoft and Huawei, increased investment on average about 10 per cent last year, and venture capital investment surged, a trend which is continuing this year, Mr. Wunsch-Vincent said.

In contrast, the transport and travel sectors were heavily hit by containment measures and cut back their outlays. The GII 2021 also shows that technological progress at the frontier holds substantial promise, with the rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines being the greatest example.

"In spite of the massive impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, 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 and to constructing a better future.”

Global innovation landscape

The index ranks 132 countries, plus sub-economies such as Hong Kong, and comes a year after WIPO reported that investments in innovation had hit a record high in 2019, showing an average annual profit of 8.5 per cent.

Northern America and Europe continue to lead the global innovation landscape, but, the Southeast Asia, East Asia, and Oceania have been the most dynamic in the past decade and are the only regions closing the gap with the leaders.

According to the report, China is still the only middle-income economy that makes it to the top 30. Bulgaria (35), Malaysia (36), Turkey (41), Thailand (43), Vietnam (44), the Russian Federation (45), India (46), Ukraine (49), and Montenegro (50), do feature in the top 50.

However, only Turkey, Vietnam, India and the Philippines are systematically catching up, Beyond China, these larger economies have the potential to change the global innovation landscape for good, it said.

“The GII shows that although emerging economies often find it challenging to steadily improve their innovation systems, a few middle-income economies have managed to catch up in innovation with their more developed peers", former Dean and Professor of Management at Cornell University, Soumitra Dutta said.

“These emerging economies, among other things, have been able to successfully complement their domestic innovation with international technology transfer, develop technologically dynamic services that can be traded internationally, and ultimately have shaped more balanced innovation systems,” he said.