PARIS - Reaching net-zero will require significant global efforts to harness technology and boost innovation. Our new joint report with the European Commission's Joint Research Centre (EC-JRC), “World Corporate Top R&D Investors: Paving the Way to Climate Neutrality”, shows that the world’s 2000 top R&D investors make a significant contribution to global climate-related innovation and associated goods and services, owning 70% of climate change mitigation or adaptation patents and more than 10% of global climate-related trademarks.

The report suggests that while large corporate R&D investors produce large amounts of climate-related innovation, other inventors – such as young firms – develop more radical innovations and are therefore more likely to generate the breakthrough discoveries needed to achieve net-zero emissions.

We presented the report on 23 November at a session of the CONCORDi 2021 conference on industrial innovation for competitive sustainability, organised by EC-JRC in association with the European Association for Research and Technology Organisations (EARTO), the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the OECD.


This biennial report continues the joint JRC-OECD analysis of the Intellectual Property (IP) portfolios of the world’s top 2 000 R&D investors and explores the pivotal role played by these companies in the development and commercialisation of new technologies, as reflected in their patenting and trademark filing activity.

It provides a thematic focus on the contribution of the world’s top 2 000 R&D investors to innovation in climate change mitigation and adaptation technologies as a response to the new climate neutrality objectives.The report shows that global R&D and patenting activities remain highly concentrated within the world’s top 2 000 R&D investors.

These are responsible for 87% of global business R&D expenditure by the private sector and 63% of patent filings across all technologies. There is much less concentration at the commercialisation stage, with only 6% of all trademarks owned by the top R&D investors. Among the top R&D investors, R&D investments, patents and trademarks are highly concentrated within the hands of a few hundred companies. United States (US)-based firms lead the ranking in almost every sector. Companies located in Japan and in the European Union (EU27) have recently been losing ground to companies based in People’s Republic of China (hereafter ‘China’).

A few sectors dominate both R&D investments and patent filings, including ‘Computers & electronics’, ‘Pharmaceuticals’ and ‘Transport equipment’. Looking at the IP bundle, we observe key sectoral differences: companies in ‘Transport equipment’, ‘Electrical equipment’, ‘Machinery’ and ‘Computers & electronics’ primarily rely on patents to protect their products, while companies in ‘Food products’, ‘Telecommunications’ and ‘Pharmaceuticals’ use more trademarks than patents.Countries representing more than 80% of the world economy (including the EU27) have announced targets of climate neutrality by mid-century in their policy agendas.

Reaching this objective requires the development and large-scale diffusion of a wide set of new low-carbon technologies. The world’s top R&D investors are key contributors to global climate-related innovation. They own 70% of global climate change mitigation or adaptation patents and over 10% of global climate-related trademarks, which is larger than their contribution to overall patents and trademarks across all fields.

However, while top R&D investors produce large amounts of climate-related innovation, other inventors – such as young firms – develop more radical innovations and are therefore more likely to generate the breakthrough discoveries needed to achieve net-zero emissions.

Some disparities across sectors emerge: while the electricity production, transportation and construction sectors heavily invest in climate-related innovation, other sectors such as information and communication technology (ICT) invest little in low-carbon innovation but contribute by developing enabling technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI).

Focusing on a few technologies that are key to reaching the climate neutrality objective (renewable energy, electric cars and hydrogen), companies headquartered in Asian countries exhibit clear specialisation patterns: Japanese firms lead in hydrogen technologies, Korean firms in electric cars and batteries and Chinese firms in renewable energy technologies.

On the contrary, the EU27-headquartered companies do not exhibit such a pronounced specialisation pattern, but have a broad technological base contributing to all climate-related technologies in equal measure. Relative to firms in other regions, US-based firms are not specialised in this specific subset of key climate-related technologies.

Looking at the potential contribution of the digital revolution to climate-related innovation at the invention stage, 20% of climate-related patents have a digital component (compared to 33% for patents across all technological fields). This suggests further potential regarding the digital transformation enabling the green transition across many carbon-intensive sectors of the economy.

However, 60% of climate-related trademarks are also ICT-related, which is much larger than for the average trademark filed (around 30%). Hence, the use of digital solutions to address climate-related issues seems especially widespread at the commercialisation stage.Lastly, this edition of the report investigates – for the first time – the gender composition of the board of directors of the top 2 000 R&D investors and that of their R&D workforce.

EU27 companies have, on average, more gender-balanced boards than the US and Asia, with female representation of at least 26%. The French companies included in the study have the most gender-balanced boards by far. A substantial gender gap is also observed for inventors listed in patent applications, with significant heterogeneity across countries and sectors. Companies with the highest shares of patents invented by women are located in Spain (37%), the United States (29%) and Belgium (26%).

The ‘Pharmaceuticals’, ‘Biotechnology’ and ‘Chemistry’ sector employ the most gender-balanced teams of inventors. However, there is no evidence that ‘green’ firms (which lead in climate-related innovation) have more gender-balanced boards than ‘brown’ firms (who do not own any climate-related IP), or that climate-related technologies rely more heavily on female inventors.

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