WIPO: Important innovation divide remains between developed and developing countries

22 August 2016

Despite innovation becoming more global than it used to be, a significant innovation divide persists between developed and developing countries, according to a new report published last week by the UN World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) – the Global Innovation Index 2016.

Released every year since 2007, the Global Innovation Index is intended to provide business executives, policymakers, and other stakeholders with an overview of the state of innovation the world over. It is jointly published by Cornell University, INSEAD, and WIPO.

“Innovation has increasingly a global character, in that economic agents from different countries are involved, and we want to emphasise that this is a positive thing; this allows the benefits of innovation to be shared, and the capacity for innovation to be augmented through these collaborations,” noted WIPO Director General Francis Gurry in a video message presenting the highlights of the report.

As the report makes clear, however, this more global nature of innovation has not translated into a level playing field, but rather into a more multipolar world in this area. Most innovation activities continue to centre around developed countries and a few middle-income economies like Brazil, China, or India.

Interestingly, this year’s report represents the first time a middle-income country, namely China, is included among the 25 most innovative economies of the world. The document nonetheless notes that the innovation divide between developed economies and upper-middle-income countries is large, which is a fortiori even greater in relation to developing countries in general.

“Innovation divides remain according to the Global Innovation Index 2016. The distance between the performance of the top 10 ranked innovation nations [Editor’s note: Switzerland, Sweden, the UK, the US, Finland, Singapore, Ireland, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Germany] and all others is still wide,” states the global intellectual property body’s report.

In particular, most countries from sub-Saharan Africa continue to lag behind. The first African economy, Mauritius, occupies the 53rd place on the index (out of a total of 128 ranked countries), followed by South Africa (54th), Kenya (80th), Rwanda (83rd), Mozambique (84th), and Botswana (90th). Among the group of ten economies which have the lowest scores, seven are African.

Despite this, the document underlines that sub-Saharan Africa has been performing relatively well as a region over the past years. Areas where progress has been significant include business sophistication, institutions, as well as knowledge and technology output.

The report emphasises, notably, that from 2012 on, sub-Saharan Africa has had more countries than any other region in the category of what it calls “innovation achievers” – that is countries which perform better than would be predicted on the basis of their development level.

In this year’s edition, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, and Uganda are classified as “innovation achievers.” For all of them except Madagascar, remarkably, this is the fourth time in the last five years.

“In Africa, we have seen a positive development over much of the last decade, where we have seen many countries step up their investments in innovation significantly. As a result, many economies have been doing very well compared to their peers on the same GDP level,” underlines Global Innovation Index co-editor Soumitra Dutta from Cornell University.

However, with the global decline in commodity prices and forecasts predicting an economic slowdown in sub-Saharan Africa in the coming years, the report also urges African countries to refrain from withdrawing their investments in innovation, arguing this could threaten long-term success.

“As economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa is slowing, the GII 2016 shows that Sub-Saharan Africa must preserve its current innovation momentum, while continuing to diversify economies away from oil production and commodity revenues,” notes a press release published by WIPO.

ICTSD reporting.

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