mation contained in patent records—on the applicant, the inventor, locations, and so on. However, the interpretation of patent data has many caveats associated with it. For instance, the value distribution of patents is skewed because many patents awarded have little or no industrial application.1 In addition, many inventions are never patented—corporate inventors, for instance, might choose to keep them as trade secrets for competitive advantage. Also, differences in national intellectual property (IP) regimes can hinder the accurate disaggregation and interpretation of data. Changes in patent law and in patenting patterns make analysis over time difficult. The time lag between an invention and the award of a patent for that invention also causes patent data analysis to be insensitive to very recent trends in invention. Nevertheless this tracking of international activity in a particular field is a good complement to other methodologies and can identify trends.
Because the focus of this report is to look at the globalization of MSE R&D, information on the inventor’s country of residence at the time of the invention is of paramount interest and can indicate shifts in the international location of inventive activity. Although patents with inventors from more than one country are likely to have been counted more than once, the trends displayed are unlikely to change if fractions of those patents are allocated across the countries.
Before looking at the indicators for some key MSE subfields, it is worth asking if there are overall trends in patenting that can help identify baseline trends for patenting in general and from which we can discern MSE-specific trends. These overall trends in all patents are reported in more detail in Appendix C and can be summarized as follows. Fifty-three percent of the inventors associated with U.S. patents reside in the United States, more than in any other country and a larger share than that of the European Union and Japan combined. However, caution is warranted and advisable when drawing any conclusions about the U.S. share of R&D activity based on patent share because of what is called the “home advantage,” whereby proportionate to their inventive activity, patent applicants are more likely to file for a patent in their home country than to file with a foreign patent office. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has worked hard to understand the home advantage, and the data it has amassed point to an increase in transnational activity—that is, a growing share of patents in any given country is owned by individuals, companies, or organizations residing in other countries, indicating an increase in global and transnational ownership and collaboration.