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Quadrants of invention: Individual patent applications as unutilized resource of innovative capacity


Objective: This paper emphasizes the importance of isolating individual invention from organizational inventors such as private companies or universities. It is an explorative study of the cross-county levels of individual patenting as an indicator of innovative capacity. Innovative capacity at the national level is linked to economic development. Thus, we investigate the relationship between different types of patent applications and GDP per capita in a sample of developed and developing economies.

Research Design & Methods: We screened 600,000 Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) applications for three years (2013-2015) using a unique selection procedure able to separate different types of filings.

Findings: Countries with higher levels of individual patenting tend to have lower levels of economic development. Economic progress is driven by corporate or other forms of organizational inventors and their inventions have a better chance of transitioning into innovation. At the macro level, individual patenting vis-à-vis patents filed by organizations reflects unutilized innovative potential rather than innovative output.

Contribution & Value Added: For the first time we demonstrate that high levels of individual patenting are more characteristic of developing rather than developed economies. The percentage of individual patent applications is an important indicator of national innovative capacity.


patent statistics, individual inventors, unaffiliated inventors, invention, innovation, entrepreneurship


Author Biography

Irina Ervits

Irina Ervits currently works at the International Business Department at Cologne Business School. Her research interests are in the areas of Innovation Management, including work with patent statistics, Institutional Economics and International Economics with a focus on emerging markets. One of her recent publication is ‘Geography of Corporate Innovation: Internationalization of Innovative Activities by MNEs from Developed and Emerging Markets’.


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