Patents as green growth indicators…results from OECD

On way to measure innovation of a country in the green space is to look at patent filings.  The data shows that China is clearly in the lead.

Indeed, the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) uses patent filings as a metric for innovation and publishes its results on the following web-site:

OECD has measured the percent increase in patent filings for all technology areas from 2000 to 2011 and compares this to the percent increase of patent filings in the same period for green technology.  By hovering your mouse over each point on the graph, data for each country appears.  The numbers that appear represent the growth of green patents in each country over the time period of 2000-2011.  You will see that, in China, environmental technology patent applications increased by 1,040% (x-axis) over this time frame.  By comparison, all patent applications grew by only 611.5% (y-axis).

While China is off the charts, it must be kept in mind that the Chinese government has incentive programs to increase patent filings within their country.  These policy initiatives may serve to increase the number of patent applications filed in China, but the degree of innovation represented by each patent filing is less clear.  For example, patents come in all shapes and sizes.  Some patent applications cover break-through technology, while others may represent more incremental advances or even not mature to an issued patent (i.e., receive a final rejection for failure to describe a new innovation).   Further, many patent filings in China are utility models, which are similar to regular patents, but do not need to meet the additional threshold of non-obviousness.  In other words, only novelty needs to be established for these kinds of patents.  While Germany has utility models, the United States and Canada do not.  The frequency at which China files utility models may also serve to skew the data, at least with respect to the total number of patent filings.  Further, the numbers do not take into consideration gaps between patenting and commercialization.  Regardless, even taking into consideration these factors, the results from the Chinese Patent Office (SIPO) are impressive and suggest that China is taking climate change very seriously and has seized on the economic opportunities it presents.

Where does Canada stack up?  The number of green patent filings grew by only 16% over 2000-2011.  It should be kept in mind, though, that innovation does not always correlate perfectly with patent filings.  For example, Canada tends to publish quite extensively on green technology, but has comparatively fewer patent filings (relative to the United States – see SDTC study[1]).  Also, the number of patent filings in all technology areas in Canada actually decreased by 1.1%.



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