Ireland a follower, not a leader on EU innovation scorecard

1 Feb 2011

Ireland comes in with the innovation ‘followers’ in the EU’s new Innovation Scoreboard, out today. It cites an ‘innovation emergency’ and warns an innovation gap exists primarily in the private sector.

The figures also show the EU is failing to close the innovation performance gap with its main international competitors: the US and Japan.

Within the EU, Sweden is the most impressive performer, followed by Denmark, Finland and Germany.

The UK, Belgium, Austria, Ireland, Luxembourg, France, Cyprus, Slovenia and Estonia, in that order, form the next group.

Although the trends in most EU Member States are promising despite the economic crisis, progress is not fast enough. While the EU still maintains a clear lead over the emerging economies of India and Russia, Brazil is making steady progress, and China is catching up rapidly.

Innovation emergency in Europe

Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, said: “This new and improved Innovation Union Scoreboard highlights the innovation emergency in Europe. Innovation is as essential to a successful modern economy as water is to life. It is at the core of economic policy making and the main way economies create jobs. So today’s Scoreboard is a central plank of the Europe 2020 Strategy. We want Member States to make full use of it to build on their strengths and to address weaknesses.”

The largest gap appears in the “Firm activities” category, where the EU27 lags behind in terms of public-private co-publications, business R&D expenditures, and, compared to Japan, in PCT (patent co-operation treaty) patents.

This shows that Europe’s research and innovation gap lies primarily in the private sector.

The priority should therefore be to create the regulatory and other framework conditions that will encourage more private sector investment and facilitate the exploitation of research results by the business sector, in particular through a more efficient patent system; The gap is particularly large and rapidly increasing in licence and patent revenues from abroad. This is an important indicator of economic dynamism. It shows that the economic model and functioning of the internal market for protected knowledge in the EU need to be improved. It also shows that the EU is producing fewer high-impact patents (ie, those that generate significant income from third countries) than the US and Japan and that it is not positioning itself sufficiently well in high global growth sectors.

The still substantial gap in the number of people completing tertiary education is slightly decreasing, with relatively high growth in the EU.  

The EU27 is, however, outperforming the US in public R&D expenditures and knowledge-intensive services exports.

Over the last five years, the strongest growth of the EU27 innovation indicators has been in open, excellent and attractive research systems (international scientific co-publications, high-impact publications, non-EU doctorate students) and intellectual assets (community trademarks, PCT patents and community designs).

Overall, the EU27 is holding its lead over India and Russia. However, the EU27 is losing part of its lead over Brazil and, above all, over China, which continue to rapidly narrow their performance gap with the EU.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years