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Germany lags rivals in innovation rankings

Germany lags rivals in innovation rankings
A solar energy control panel. Photo: DPA
Germany lags its rivals when it comes to innovation, according to global rankings. But in other measures it leads Europe in technological progress. How innovative is the country really?

The 2014 Global Innovation Index (GII) from the UN World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) placed Germany 13th out of 143 countries in rankings released last week.

It measured innovation by tallying innovation in seven areas, including in institutions, human capital and research and infrastructure.

At 13th, Germany scored well below Switzerland (1st), the United Kingdom (2nd) and Sweden (3rd). It ranked just ninth in Europe. 

Categories in which Germany ranked low in will not surprise those who live and work here. They included ease of starting a business (76th place), and ease of paying taxes (54th).

Innovation Germany

But the situation may not be as dire as it seems. Germany was up two places on its 2013 rank and some industry professionals, like David Knight, editor of Silicon Allee, a website for Berlin's startup scene, took issue with the country's low ranking.

"Germany is an extremely innovative country, and has been for some time," he told The Local. "The latest wave of this has been tech startups, focused on Berlin, which are starting to make waves outside Europe.

"While you could argue that Germans don't historically have the same sense of entrepreneurship, the willingness to take risks that their Anglo-Saxon cousins have, that is changing and can be seen by the growth in companies, employees and investment in the startup scene."

While the index did not focus specifically on Berlin's rapidly expanding startup scene, it did give the country top marks in broader categories.

The index ranked Germany third in quality of innovation which was measured by university performance, the reach of scholarly articles, and the international dimension of patent applications.

Patents also remain a silver lining. A study put out by the European Patent Office (EPO) in March found that Germany filed more patents than any other European country in 2013.

Companies such as Siemens, Bosch, BASF and Bayer led the field for the most applications.

NRW like Switzerland

Germany also ranked 7th highest for expenditure on research and development (R&D), ahead of the USA and France, which ranked 11th and 14th, respectively.

Marc Lehnfeld, R&D expert at Germany Trade & Invest said. “The Global Innovation Index underlines Germany’s particular strengths in R&D intensity, the high-level of cluster development and the strong base of high-tech manufacturing.

“Germany is the fourth-largest location in terms of R&D expenditure globally. The R&D expenditures of individual federal states are comparable with those of European countries.

“North Rhine-Westphalia spends as much as Switzerland on innovation.”

But in order to take advantage of R&D and other innovative activities being carried out in a country, "the most important condition is the presence of a large, well-educated stock of human capital", the study mentioned − in other words, a lot of university graduates.

Fortunately, Germany has plenty of students and strong universities.

The index also cited Germany as a top country for students studying abroad. While trailing behind the USA, Germany, along with France and the UK, was a preferred destination for university students hit with Wanderlust.

As the Education Ministry and German Academic Exchange Service announced last week, a record number of foreign students are currently enrolled at German universities − over 300,000 − and many of them choose to stay and work after graduation.

The top 15 innovative countries in the world in GII rankings                                                                            

1. Switzerland

2. United Kingdom

3. Sweden

4. Finland

5. Netherlands

6. United States of America

7. Singapore

8. Denmark

9. Luxembourg

10. Hong Kong 

11. Ireland

12. Canada

13. Germany

14. Norway

15. Israel

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