Thomson Reuters has just published its “Top 100 Global Innovators” league table. It’s a list with few surprises – companies like 3M and Apple are up there as we might expect.
However Thomson Reuters have only used patent-related data to create the league table, and there are some shortfalls with this approach:
- A patent is a measure of invention, including inventions that will never be used, rather than a measure of innovation all the way to market;
- Patents have limited relevance in many sectors, particularly as our economy becomes more centred on creative and service industries. Many parts of the IT/digital industry don’t bother filing patents because the technology is replaced so quickly with new developments.
To be fair they have tried to focus on what might possibly be the more successful patents by looking at the frequency with which they’re cited in subsequent patent applications. But the truth is we all still have problems with “measuring” innovation.
We’ve been here before in this June 2010 blog. Instead of patents, we could survey companies to look at the number of new products they actually roll out each year, which would get around the ‘invention rather than innovation’ issue. But that’s also far from perfect, because it relies on subjective answers to questionnaires: one company leader’s new innovation is another leader’s minor incremental improvement not worth mentioning.
I think the answer to all this is to combine several types of indicator – not just patents but also surveys on new products – and always to be aware of their individual shortcomings. Comparisons of innovation activity will always be hard to pin down.