The geography of innovation: local hotspots, global networks

Author:Catherine Jewell

What aspect of the geography of innovation does the 2019 report focus on?

Where the 2011 World Intellectuel Property Report focuses on the broad geographical shifts that characterize global innovation, the 2019 report explores why economic activity tends to center around urban agglomerations or cities and how this gives rise to the global innovation networks that generate so much of the world’s innovation.

Why is it that so much innovation takes place around cities?

Economists have typically explained the distribution of economic activity across space by focusing on economies of scale and scope, transport costs and savings. Cities are where companies find skilled workers. People move to cities because they value the amenities metropolitan life offers and the well-paying jobs they find there. Cities are also the most fertile places for ideas to flourish, as innovators work in close proximity.

But in the innovation-driven economic models of the 21st century, other forces are also at work. Technology, especially digital technology, has increasingly facilitated knowledge flows over ever-longer distances – there is a long history of scientific collaboration among researchers from different universities and countries. Multinational corporations (MNCs) have also sought to optimize their innovative impact by developing global value chains that disperse their research and development (R&D) activities to different places. These factors, especially, urban agglomeration and dispersion of research and R&D, have given rise to global innovation networks. The 2019 World Intellectual Property Report tracks the evolution of these networks and their make-up.

What data sources did you use?

From this viewpoint, the report is the most ambitious we have undertaken to date. We used two primary data sources. First, patent data covering the period 1970 to 2017 from 168 patent offices. The rich bibliographic data found in patent documents are a useful window into technological invention across space and time. The data included around 9 million patent families (groups of patents relating to the same underlying invention) listing over 22 million inventors. We geo-coded the addresses of all the inventors cited in these documents at the rooftop, postal code or sub-city levels. Second, we analyzed scientific publications from the website, Web of Science, for the period 1998 to 2017. These data comprise 24 million scientific articles that list more than 62 million authors. Again, we geo-coded all available addresses at the postal code...

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