The COVID-19 pandemic is severely pressuring a long-building rise in worldwide innovation, likely hindering some innovative activities while catalyzing ingenuity elsewhere, according to the Global Innovation Index (GII) 2020 released by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) on Wednesday.
"The rapid, worldwide spread of the coronavirus requires fresh thinking to ensure a shared victory over this quintessential global challenge," said WIPO Director General Francis Gurry. "Even as we all grapple with the immediate human and economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, governments need to ensure that rescue packages are future-oriented and support the individuals, research institutes, companies and others with innovative and collaborative new ideas for the post-COVID era. Innovations equal solutions."
According to the index, COVID-19 hit the innovation landscape at a time when innovation was flourishing. In 2018, R&D spending grew by 5.2 percent, significantly faster than global GDP growth, after rebounding strongly from the financial crisis of 2008-2009, while venture capital (VC) and the use of intellectual property were at an all-time high.
However, with COVID-19, the money to fund innovative ventures is drying up, as VC deals are in sharp decline across North America, Asia and Europe. The impact of this shortage in innovation finance will be uneven, with the negative effects felt more heavily by early-stage VCs, by R&D-intensive start-ups, and in countries that are not typically VC hotspots.
While the pandemic has possibly also brought about increased international collaboration in science, there are concerns of major research projects being disrupted and international closure in the pursuit of innovation, even though COVID-19 has already catalyzed innovation in many new and traditional sectors, such as health, education, tourism and retail.
With the theme "Who Will Finance Innovation?", this year's version of index advises that further rounds of support by governments must prioritize and then broaden support for innovation, particularly for smaller enterprises and start-ups that are facing hurdles in accessing rescue packages.
In terms of ranking, Switzerland remains at top for the 10th consecutive year as the world's leader in innovation, which is followed by Sweden, the U.S., UK and the Netherlands. South Korea becomes a second Asian economy joining the top ten for the first time, the other being Singapore at No. 8. China retains its 14th position, after rapid rise in recent years.
The Global Innovation Index 2020 is the 13th version since its annual publication in 2007. It has since become a leading bench marking tool for business executives, policymakers and others seeking insight into the state of innovation around the world.