The Global Innovation Index 2019 released by the U.N. intellectual property agency, one of its co-sponsors, says "innovation is blossoming around the world" despite an economic slowdown, brewing trade battles and high economic uncertainty.
The index keeps Switzerland in the No. 1 spot — a position it has held since 2011 — followed by Sweden, the United States, the Netherlands and Britain. The United States had fallen from fourth place in the 2017 rankings to sixth in 2018.
Israel climbed one spot to enter the top 10 for the first time at No. 10, becoming the first country from the northern Africa and western Asia region to crack the top group. South Korea edged closer to the top 10 at No. 11, up from No. 12.
Now in its 12th edition, the index ranks 129 economies based on 80 indicators, from traditional measurements like research and development investments and international patent and trademark applications to newer indicators including mobile-phone app creation and high-tech exports.
The index is sponsored by the U.N. World Intellectual Property Organization, Cornell University's SC Johnson College of Business and INSEAD, the graduate school of business with campuses in France, Singapore and Abu Dhabi.
According to the report, China's continuing rise firmly establishes the country "in the group of leading innovative nations." "China's innovation strengths become evident in numerous areas: It maintains top ranks in patents by origin, industrial designs, and trademarks by origin as well as high-tech net exports and creative goods exports," the report said.
When comparing levels of innovation to economic development, the report said India, Vietnam, Kenya and Moldova "stand out for outperforming on innovation relative to GDP for the ninth consecutive year — a record." Other economies outperforming in innovation relative to their GDP include Costa Rica, Thailand, Georgia, the Philippines, Burundi, Malawi and Mozambique, it said.
The report singled out India, ranked No. 52, for continuing to be the most innovative economy in central and southern Asia. India consistently ranks among the top countries in the world in "innovation drivers" such as information and technology services exports, graduates in science and engineering, high quality universities, creative goods exports and "gross capital formation — a measure of economy-wide investments," it said.
Francis Gurry, director general of the World Intellectual Property Organization, said the gains on the index "by economic powerhouses like China and India have transformed the geography of innovation and this reflects deliberate policy action to promote innovation."
Other regional leaders in innovation in addition to India and Israel include South Africa, Chile and Singapore with China, Vietnam and Rwanda topping their income groups, the report said. "In developed and developing economies alike, formal innovation — as measured by research and development and patents — and less formal modes of innovation are thriving," it said.
The report said global expenditures on research and development have been growing faster than the global economy, with government expenditure rising about 5% in 2017 and business expenditure 6.7%. "Never in history have so many scientists worldwide labored at solving the most pressing global scientific challenges," it said.
But many countries still lack innovation in their economies. The 10 countries at the bottom of the index, in descending order, are Nicaragua, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Benin, Zambia, Guinea, Togo, Niger, Burundi and Yemen.
Looking ahead, the report said two concerns stand out that could slow growth in innovation. First, public research and development expenditures "particularly in some high-income countries responsible for driving the technology frontier are growing slowly or not at all," it said.
"Second, increased protectionism — in particular, protectionism that impacts technology-intensive sectors and knowledge flows — poses risks to global innovation networks and innovation diffusion," the report said.