A new report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) draws on information on patents, research papers, researcher mobility and technology transfer to highlight the increasingly international nature of research.
The subject is one of several featured in the latest OECD Science, Technology and Industry Scoreboard, which the organisation produces every two years.
The report notes that many challenges facing countries today, such as the economic downturn, international competition, environmental pressures and longer life expectancies, are global in nature in the sense that they affect all countries. 'But they are also global because the scale of problems exceeds the capability of any one country and requires cooperation by all countries,' the report reads.
In the section on research, the report states: 'Today, scientific and technological innovation requires more complex and interactive processes. This added complexity has led innovators to partner to share costs, find complementary expertise, gain access to different technologies and knowledge quickly, and collaborate as part of an innovation network.'
The data reveals that the production of scientific knowledge has shifted from individuals to groups, from single to multiple institutions and from national to international levels. The proportion of scientific articles boasting authors from more than one country tripled between 1985 and 2007. In2007, it stood at 22%.
And while over 80% of scientific articles published worldwide come from OECD countries, the number of articles coming from Latin America and south-east Asia is rising rapidly.
Patent data reveal a similar picture. In Belgium, Chinese Taipei and Switzerland, over 40% of patents filed in recent years involved collaboration with at least one inventor based abroad. In France, Germany, Sweden, the UK and the US, the figure ranges between 11% and 25% and the proportion of these international patents is rising steadily in many countries.
Migration also has an important role to play in transferring knowledge across boundaries, the report's authors point out. The number of foreign students in OECD countries has tripled since 1980, and the mobility of doctoral students is also on the rise, with foreigners now making up over 40% of the doctoral population in New Zealand, Switzerland and the UK.
The OECD uses the technology balance of payments as a measure of international technology transfer. 'In most OECD countries, technological receipts and payments increased sharply during the 1990s and up to mid-2000,' the report states, adding that overall, the OECD remains a net technology exporter with regard to the rest of the world.
Collaboration with foreign partners can provide companies with access to a wider pool of resources and knowledge while sharing risks. In the EU, the proportion of companies collaborating on innovation with partners elsewhere in Europe ranges from less than 2% in Spain and Turkey to over 13% in Finland, Luxembourg and Slovenia. Collaboration with partners outside Europe is rarer.
Elsewhere in the report, the OECD notes that research and development (R&D) expenditures tend to be first in line for cuts during recessions. Early indications are that the companies have indeed lowered their R&D spending in the first quarter of 2009. Venture capital is also becoming harder to come by, and foreign direct investment (FDI) is also falling.
'As foreign affiliates provide access to new technologies and generate knowledge spillovers for domestic firms, lower inflows of FDI will reduce innovation capabilities in the host country,' the report concludes.
For more information on the OECD Science, Technology and Industry Scoreboard 2009, please visit:
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Information Source: OECD
Document Reference: Based on the OECD Science, Technology and Industry Scoreboard 2009