There are a number of measures of a country's
"innovativeness". When each of government R&D spend,
number of academic publications, GNP, number of successful spin-off
companies, etc. are reduced to a "per capita" basis, one
can begin to get a feel for where the "innovation
hotspots" are across the globe.
Another measure that has assumed increased standing in recent
times is the number of patents per capita any one country
produces. Specifically, the number of United States
patents per capita per country
("USPPCPC") is now regarded as a
persuasive indicator of a country's innovative activity.
Of course, the USPPCPC is not the "be all and end all"
of innovation statistics. Much Australasian-based
"innovation" is for the purposes of the local market only
- thereby making United States patents largely irrelevant. On the
other hand, "invention" - arguably a higher form of
innovation, is generally more amenable to the international stage.
The point being that the USPPCPC is "but one" measure of
a country's inventive/innovative landscape.
Notwithstanding their relative successes in many of the other
measures listed above, the latest USPPCPC data show that both
Australia and New Zealand have been punching significantly below
their weight and underachieving somewhat in respect of developing
and securing intellectual property within the world's largest
Australian-based organisations were awarded 0.82% of the utility
patents issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office
(USPTO) in 2008/09. These figures are offset
against Australia's population, which is around 1.8% of the
OECD total. New Zealand-based organisations gained 0.06% of the
08/09 US patent share, reflecting poorly against their population
share of about 0.36%. Comparative 2009/10 data have yet to be
The USPTO issued 157,772 utility patents during 2008/09.
Australia and New Zealand's respective USPPCPC
"scores" of 0.00006 and 0.00003 are actually more than an
order of magnitude worse than those reported recently throughout
the local media.*
Whilst these statistics reflect somewhat negatively upon
Australasia's innovation landscape, it is likely that they are
actually only telling part of the story. The statistics reflect the
country in which the patent assignee is based, as opposed to the
country in which the IP was developed. Accordingly, the
"true" figures may be somewhat higher on the basis that a
significant portion of Australasian IP is actually held by
companies based offshore for tax purposes. Given that AU/NZ each
have a 30% company tax rate – and that countries such as
the UK and Benelux have or will soon have "Patent Box"
legislation (i.e. taxation rates of about 5-8% on patent revenues;
see, our previous article:
it is entirely possible that the already-low ratios of
Australasian-based US patents per capita may soon take an even
greater dive by virtue of more and more companies relocating
This in turn allows us to adopt a "best of both
worlds" attitude to the statistics. On the one hand, we can
easily discount any prima facie conclusions drawn above by
applying a "Patent Box"-type argument; and on the other
hand, should the 2009/10 statistics show any measure of
improvement, the "real" result will probably be even more
significant as the data will have likely been mollified by
Australasian companies continuing to move offshore.
Whilst the present statistics can be conveniently discounted on
the basis of foreign ownership of Australasian IP, the other side
of the coin is that the relatively low numbers of US patents owned
in our corner of the world may reflect a reluctance or uncertainty
on behalf of local organisations to enter the world's most
Shelston IP has a genuine interest in assisting
Australasian-based organisations secure foreign patent rights prior
to entering their target markets. We would be pleased to assist
patent applicants with their foreign and local business
*A very different picture was
reported recently throughout the local media and the conclusions
reached in such articles should be tempered. These articles claimed
a US patent share of 0.41% for New Zealand in 2008 (which equates
to a USPPCPC score of 0.0002). The claimed 0.41% patent share
appears to have been calculated erroneously by using the 800-odd
NZ-based claims granted by the USPTO (spread over 105 patents)
as the basis for comparison, rather than the 105 patents
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