NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 29, 2009

When looking only at the growing number of U.S. patents awarded to Asian inventors, the United States appears to have a dramatically receding edge in innovation, says Foreign Policy (FP).

For example:

  • South Korean inventors, for example, received 8,731 U.S. patents in 2008 -- compared with 13 in 1978.
  • In 2008, close to 37,000 U.S. patents went to Japanese inventors.
  • The trend seems sufficiently alarming that one study ranked the United States eighth in terms of innovation, behind Singapore, South Korea and Switzerland.

But reports of the death of America's technological leadership are greatly exaggerated, says FP:

  • Although Asia's advanced economies, such as Japan and South Korea, are closing the gap, the United States' lead remains huge.
  • In 2008, American inventors were awarded 92,000 U.S. patents, twice the combined total given to South Korean and Japanese inventors.
  • Asia's two giants, China and India, still lag far behind.

Even Asia's much-touted numerical advantage is less than it seems, says FP:

  • China supposedly graduates 600,000 engineering majors each year, India another 350,000, while the U.S. trails with only 70,000 engineering graduates annually.
  • Although these numbers suggest an Asian edge in generating brainpower, they are thoroughly misleading with half of China's engineering graduates and two thirds of India's only having associate degrees.
  • Once quality is factored in, Asia's lead disappears altogether.
  • A much-cited 2005 McKinsey Global Institute study reports that human resource managers in multinational companies consider only 10 percent of Chinese engineers and 25 percent of Indian engineers as even "employable," compared with 81 percent of American engineers.

Source: Minxin Pei, "Think Again: Asia's Rise," Foreign Policy, June 22, 2009.

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