China has been on a path of economic reform since the late 1970’s that has seen it transform over the last forty years to become the second largest global economy after the US with a nominal Gross Domestic Product (GDP) last year of $11.2 trillion.
Behind that transformation is a heavy investment in R&D and an emphasis on innovation through the full implementation of the “National Strategic Framework for Innovation-Driven Development” which has seen innovation become the core driving force for development of both public and private enterprise in China.
But where is that investment being made? Who are the key players blazing the trail for others to follow? Which technologies feature most prominently in recent developments? These are the questions the Clarivate Analytics 2017 Top 100 Chinese Innovators report seeks to address by identifying the leading innovative companies in China and exploring the attributes that they share. As with the inaugural 2016 report, these companies demonstrate strong commitment to progressing innovation globally, to the protection of ideas and to the commercialization of inventions.
Companies that invest in R&D, protect their inventions through patents (locally and globally) and are recognized by others as having founding technology are those who are paving the way for the future. By studying who the Top 100 Chinese Innovators are, what they are developing and how, we aim to shed some light on what it takes to be a leading innovator.
Key findings of the 2017 report
This year, the Top 100 Chinese Innovators list is grouped into four tiers according to the weighted scores from the criteria used to evaluate innovation performance for the purpose of visualizing innovation strength and competitiveness of these companies.
As a whole, there are 25 new companies in the 2017 Top 100 Chinese Innovators list. However, all 25 Tier I companies were listed last year as well. This demonstrates that these companies maintain consistent innovation strength, and that innovation is a long-term process rather than a day’s work.
Besides measuring the Volume of innovation, the evaluation method looks at Success, Globalization and Impact. The Success rate – the conversion rate from patent applications to grants – can provide insight into the quality of innovation, the reasoning being that in order to proceed to grant, an invention has to be new, non-obvious and useful; therefore only good quality inventions will proceed to grant.
A comparison shows a slight fall in the success rate of obtaining granted patents of 4.9% amongst this year’s Chinese Top 100 innovators compared to 2016. This reflects a trend which Clarivate has observed globally towards focusing more on the quality vs quantity of protected innovation, and hence fewer applications proceeding through prosecution to become granted patents. This could be due either to patent offices raising the standard required to obtain granted patent rights, or it could be due to organizations abandoning lesser-quality inventions earlier in the prosecution process. Either way, this results in a higher quality of innovation in lesser volume.
Globalization analysis reveals again that, as last year, the majority of the 2017 Chinese Top 100 innovators are focused on protecting their innovation in domestic markets. However, a significant proportion of companies such as ZTE, Huawei, AMEC, Alibaba and BOE Technology, all leading global players in the hi-tech industries, demonstrate China’s growing global influence in these areas.
The influence of an invention as measured by the rate of citation of inventions by later published patents, can provide insight into the quality and impact that innovation has “down the line”, the reasoning being that the higher the quality of the invention, the more likely it is to be picked up and developed by other innovators and hence appear in the citations for later inventions. This year, the overall combined influence metrics (source: Web of Science) of the Top 100 Chinese innovators has increased by an impressive 60% over last year. That is a truly significant indication that the innovation being conducted by the Top 100 innovative organizations in China is being picked up more widely and more often, and is helping to drive innovation generally.
However, at an average ratio of 0.85 citations per patent family, levels of influence for the Chinese Top 100 are still somewhat below those for the Top 100 Global innovators who have an average ratio of 1.12 citations per patent family. Significant progress has been made in 2017, but there is still some way to go to reach global average levels of influence.
Further insights into the industries and regions where Chinese innovation is forging ahead are provided in the full Clarivate Analytics “2017 Chinese Top 100 Innovators” report available in English and Mandarin.
 GERD as a percentage of GDP has grown relentlessly over the last 10 years from 1.37% in 2006 to 2.07% in 2015 which is on par with other major innovation economies.
 “Volume” = volume of patent families published during the previous five years; “Success” = conversion rate from patent application to grant; “Globalization” = breadth of global patent filing; and “Influence” = citation impact in later published patents. Data source is the Derwent World Patents Index database on Derwent Innovation.