NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION
Directorate for Social, Behavioral
and Economic Sciences
NSF 99-351 June 18, 1999
by Lawrence M.
International Patenting Trends in
Biotechnology: Genetic Engineering
The United States is widely considered the global leader in the biotechnology field and an examination of U.S. patenting in genetic engineering technologies during 1990-94 supports that perception.
The United States produced 63 percent of the internationally patented genetic engineering families formed during the period examinednearly five times that produced by Japan and six times that produced by the United Kingdom.
This report is the second in a three-part series that examines America’s technological position vis-à-vis that of five other countriesJapan, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and South Koreain high-tech areas likely to be important to future economic competitiveness. The areas examined are advanced manufacturing, biotechnology, and advanced materials. The indicator used to determine a country’s relative strength and interest in these areas is international patent activity. To facilitate patent search and analysis, the three broad areas are each represented by a narrower subfield. This report examines genetic engineering technologies as a proxy for biotechnology.
International Patenting Activity
The United States is widely considered the global leader in the biotechnology field, and these data support that perception. The United States is the priority country (that is, the location of first application) for 63 percent of the international patent families examined here; Japan follows with 13 percent, the United Kingdom with 10 percent, and Germany with 7 percent.
Of the 3,411 international patent families in genetic engineering formed by the six countries during the 1990-94 period, 39 were considered highly cited inventions. The United States, which, as noted above, had the majority of the total international patent families recorded during the period, also had the largest proportion of those that were highly cited59 percent (table 1). Japan had 10 percent of the highly cited international patent families.
Only France exceeded a proportionate share on this indicator. With far fewer patent families overall than the other countries examined, France produced more than three times the number of important, that is highly cited, patents as expected based on its level of activity. The United States, Japan, and Germany produced fewer highly cited patents than might be expected based on their shares of patent families associated with this technology, although the United States and Japan came close. South Korea did not produce any highly cited international patents. The United Kingdom’s share of highly cited patents matched its share of total genetic engineering inventions patented internationally (that is, its citation ratio equals 1.0).
Based on this indicator, the United States leads the other countries in terms of the volume of important (highly cited) genetic engineering inventions it produced during the period examined. While it fell slightly short (citation ratio of 0.9) of what might be expected given its share of overall patenting in this technology, the total number of highly cited patents produced by the United States in this important technology area is nonetheless noteworthy.
Average International Patent Family Size
Based on this measure, patented genetic engineering inventions developed in Japan and Germany appear to be the most commercially valuable on average, although the scores for each country are very similar (table 2). On average, Japan has sought patent protection in 11 countries whose combined economies are equivalent to 1.6 times that of the United States (as based on GDP); German-origin inventions average 14.7 countries with a combined GDP equal to 1.5 times that of the United States. Patented genetic engineering inventions originating in the United States rank third in perceived commercial exploitation potential. Inventions originating in France, South Korea, and the United Kingdom all trailed the three leaders based on this measure.
Summary of U.S. Position
Claus, P., and P.A. Higham. 1982. “Study of Citations Given in Search Reports of International Patent Applications Published Under the Patent Cooperation Treaty.” World Patent Information 4: 105-9.
Mogee, M. E. 1991. Technology Policy and Critical Technologies: A Summary of Recent Reports. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.
Mogee Research & Analysis Associates. 1997. Comparing Assessments of National Position in Key Science & Technology Fields. Report prepared under National Science Foundation SGER Grant No. SRS-9618668. Washington, DC.
Narin, F., K. Hamilton, and D. Olivastro. 1997. “The Increasing Linkage Between U.S. Technology and Public Science.” Research Policy 26, No. 3 (December): 317-30.
National Critical Technologies Review Group. March 1995. National Critical Technologies Report. Washington, DC.
Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). 1995. National Critical Technologies Report. Washington, DC: National Critical Technologies Panel.
. 1997. Science & Technology Shaping the Twenty-First Century. Washington, DC: Executive Office of the President.
Popper, S., C. Wagner, and E. Larson. 1998. New Forces at Work: Industry Views Critical Technologies. Santa Monica, CA: RAND.
This Issue Brief was prepared by:
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 These data were developed under contract for the National Science Foundation by Mogee Research & Analysis Associates and cover the period 1990-94; they were extracted from the Derwent World Patents Index Database published by Derwent Publications, Ltd. The technology areas selected for this study met several criteria:
- Each technology appeared on the lists of “critical” technologies deemed important to future U.S. economic competitiveness or national security (see Mogee 1991; OSTP 1995; and Popper, Wagner, and Larson 1998).
- Each technology could be characterized by the output of patentable products or processes.
- Each technology could be defined sufficiently to permit construction of accurate patent search strategies.
- Each technology yielded a sufficient population for statistical analysis.
 The data used here include all international patent families with priority application dates from 1990-94 with four or more citations. The citation counts are those placed on European Patent Office (EPO) patents by EPO examiners, as the EPO citations are believed to be a less biased and broader source of citation than those of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. See Claus and Higham (1982). To adjust for the advantage countries with large numbers of international families would have on this indicator, a country’s share of highly cited patents is divided by its share of total international patent families.
 Operationally, this means counting the number of countries in a family in which a patent publication (a published patent application or an issued patent) exists. Patents in each family are weighted by an index based on the gross domestic product (GDP) in purchasing power parities at current U.S. dollars of the patent country. The index runs from 0 to 1.00 and U.S. GDP is set at 1.00.