Serial Inventor Woody Norris said “Almost nothing has been invented yet” during his TED talk. Although shocking, the statement warrants serious consideration as it is coming from a very successful inventor. In this post, we try to verify the statement with some hard data.
Measuring innovation activity is difficult. One way is to measure is the money spent on R&D activities. However, money spent on R&D activity does not measure the output of the investment. Arguably, patent activity is most reliable tool to measure innovation. By definition, each patent corresponds to an invention. Let us have a look at patenting activity across various technologydomains and across various countries.
According to a WIPO report – “Inventors and companies filed 1.98 million patent applications worldwide in 2010, which is a new record. China and the U.S. accounted for about 80 percent of the growth. The US patent office saw 7.5% growth in 2010. Double digit growth was reached in China (24.3%), the European Patent Office (12.2%), Singapore (11.9%) and the Russian Federation (10.2%). In the past decade, the patent office of China has seen the most dramatic increases in application levels. Between 2001 and 2010, annual growth averaged 22.6%, with patent filings rising from 63,450 in 2001 to 391,177 in 2010. Applications at the patent offices of middle and low-income economies also rebounded strongly in 2010 after falling in 2009. Colombia, Malaysia, Philippines, Ukraine and Vietnam saw double-digit growth in applications in 2010.
Further, looking at patenting activity across different technology fields, the Report shows that computer technology, electrical machinery, audio-visual technology and medical technology accounted for the largest shares of patent filings worldwide. However, the relative importance of different technology fields varied substantially across countries. Broadly defined information communications and technologies (ICTs) accounted for the largest share of filings in Finland and Sweden, with pharmaceuticals more prominent in Belgium, India and Switzerland” (Source: IP Filings Worldwide Rebound in 2010 despite Economic Turmoil”).
The WIPO statistics clearly show that patenting has not only increased, but it is growing across the globe across almost all technology domains. Further, the growth rate seems to be very healthy with some countries reaching double digits growth rates. Woody Norris’s statement is not far from truth. Inventors clearly think nothing has been invented as yet and are inventing at amazing pace.