Technological Importance of Asian Patents
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Technological Importance of Asian Patents

Indicators of Technological Importance
Technological Importance of Japan's Patents
Technological Importance of NIE Patents
Technological Importance of EAE Patents

Indicators of Technological Importance

Information contained in patent documents suggests that many Asian patents represent seminal advances in technology and that they tend to be concentrated in rapidly changing fields of technology. Yet, when compared to U.S. inventions, Asian patents appear to have weaker ties to the fundamental sciences. (See figure 7 and appendix table 13.) Those assessments are drawn from an analysis of Asia's U.S. patents using three indicators:

Figure 7

  1. The Current Impact Index (CII) attempts to capture the impact of a country's patents on the technological community and the degree to which its patents contain important technological advances by calculating how frequently a country's recent patents are cited by all of the current year's patents.[17]. This normalized indicator has an expected value of 1.0.

  2. Technology cycle time attempts to identify those countries that are inventing (patenting) in rapidly changing technology fields. This indicator identifies fast-changing technologies by measuring the median age of the patents cited as prior art.

  3. Science linkage attempts to measure the degree to which a country's technology is linked to science by calculating the number of references to the scientific literature indicated on the front pages of the patent. This indicator attempts to measure a country's activity in leading-edge technology and how close its new technology is to the scientific frontier.

In the following sections, a more disaggregated examination of Asian patent activity in the commercially important industries listed earlier underscores the observations made for Asian U.S. patent activity in general.

Technological Importance of Japan's Patents

Using the three indicators to analyze the technological importance of patenting by inventors from Japan reveals the following.

Current Impact. In the six commercially important industries, Japan's U.S. patents were cited more often (i.e., they had higher CII scores) than U.S. inventor patents, suggesting that Japan's patents tended to be more influential or have more impact on the advancement of those technologies. Of the six technology fields, Japan's widest margins over the United States were registered in aerospace and automotive technologies. (See figure 8.) While the high scores in the aerospace field may be the result of application crossovers from Japan's automotive patents, that can only be a partial explanation. There is widespread interest in Asia to improve aerospace manufacturing capability within the region. Several Asian economies besides Japan are also active in aerospace technologies, notably South Korea, Indonesia, and Taiwan. Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan have also pursued joint ventures with U.S. aerospace companies, seeking technology transfer through licensing agreements and joint production agreements.

Figure 8

Technology Cycle Time. Compared to those granted to American inventors, patents awarded to inventors from Japan improve upon younger technologies. This is true for all six technology areas examined, although the disparity was greatest in aerospace and automotive technologies. (See figure 8.)

Science Linkage. U.S. inventors showed stronger ties to science in all six technology areas than did inventors from Japan. The technology areas in which U.S. patents held the greatest margin were coincidentally the same areas in which Asian patents held the greatest margin in current impact and technology cycle time - aerospace and automotive technologies. (See figure 8.)

The indicators seem to affirm the conventional wisdom in science and technology communities - that U.S. inventions tend to be more fundamental or "groundbreaking" than Japanese patents, while inventors from Japan seem to take the important next steps in improving upon the original technology. The commercial implication of these patenting characteristics for U.S. inventions is obvious. Rapid, successive improvements to the breakthrough technology can quickly reduce a technology's market life and its attendant long-run commercial value.

Technological Importance of NIE Patents

With inventors from Japan garnering over 95 percent of Asia's U.S. patents, the scores assigned to the region in the various technologies in large part reflect Japanese patenting. Yet the four NIEs also demonstrate important gains in technology development. (See figure 9.) During the 1980s, NIE patenting rose sharply in all six selected technologies. This rise was especially dramatic in the field of electronics, and was led by inventors from Taiwan and South Korea. The NIEs' weakest gain during the past decade was recorded in the aerospace field.

Figure 9

Overall, the NIEs' patents scored significantly lower than those of the United States and Japan on all three technological performance indicators. But in those fields related to electronics and computer technologies, the NIEs appear to be following the Japanese model for economic advancement - i.e., rapidly advancing the state of the art in consumer-oriented technologies. As illustrated by the NIEs' technology cycle time score in the patent classes covering computer hardware, radio and television, and electronics, patents held by inventors from the four tigers improved upon more recent technologies than did inventors from the United States patenting in those categories.

Technological Importance of EAE Patents

The small number of U.S. patents awarded to the four EAEs weakens the reliability of these indicators to judge the technological importance of their patents, but some preliminary judgments can be made. In the commercially important industry in which the EAEs were awarded the most patents - the electronics industry patents by residents of China tended to show a strong science linkage, while patents by residents of India had garnered more citations to their patents (a CII above 1.0) than the average for that category. Given the small number of patents, these indicators can only call attention to the direction of technological development in these two countries.

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17. On the front page of a newly issued patent, the patent examiner lists any "prior art" that led to, or borders, the new technology. These citations can be to the scientific literature, to other patents, or to other technologies. When an earlier patent is included as a citation on a new patent, it indicates that that earlier patented invention was important to the creation of the newly patented invention. When a previously patented invention receives many citations, that patent has probably led to many subsequent inventions and, more than likely, contained an important or seminal advance in its field.

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