Invention, Innovation, and Perceptions of Science

Inventors from China, Japan, and South Korea receive the majority of patents for unique inventions across all countries and regions, based on patent family statistics. Engineering-related inventions made up more than half of all these global patent families in 2018. In the United States, industries producing digital and health-related products and technologies report above-average innovation rates. Overall, Americans view S&T positively. Most Americans believe that science creates more opportunities for the next generation and that the federal government should provide funds for scientific research. However, a considerable share also think that science makes life change too fast.

Invention

Scientific discovery and R&D increase the storehouse of knowledge, which then enables invention, innovation, and societal and economic benefits. Patents grant novel, useful, and nonobvious inventions legal ownership rights for a specified period. Utility patents are an internationally comparable indicator of invention. However, they are an incomplete indicator because not all inventions are protected by patents. Many inventions are patented in multiple international jurisdictions as inventors operate and seek patent protection in these markets. Data on patent families provide a broad unduplicated measure of such global inventions. Based on these data, inventors in China accounted for about half (49%) of such patent families in 2018 (Figure 26). Electrical and mechanical engineering-related patents made up more than half (56%) of these patent families in 2018, including those granted to inventors in the United States, the EU, South Korea, Japan, and China (Figure 27).

Shares of worldwide patent families granted to inventors, by selected region, country, or economy: 2018

EU = European Union.

Note(s)

Patent families refer to groups of patents that have one unique invention in common. For more information on PATSTAT data, see https://www.epo.org/searching-for-patents/business/patstat.html#tab-1.

Source(s)

NCSES, special tabulations (2019) by SRI International and Science-Metrix of PATSTAT, European Patent Office.

Indicators 2020: Innovation

Engineering patent families granted to inventors as a share of each selected region's, country's, or economy's patent families: 2018

EU = European Union.

Note(s)

Patent families refer to groups of patents that have one unique invention in common. Electrical and mechanical engineering patents exclude patents in civil engineering. For more information on PATSTAT data, see https://www.epo.org/searching-for-patents/business/patstat.html#tab-1.

Source(s)

NCSES, special tabulations (2019) by SRI International and Science-Metrix of PATSTAT, European Patent Office.

Indicators 2020: Innovation

In contrast, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) patents show the geographic distribution of inventions protected in the U.S. market; high-income countries and regions predominate. U.S. inventors receive nearly half of USPTO patents (47%); considerable shares are also received by Japan (16%), South Korea (6%), and the EU (15%), while China receives 5%.

Innovation

While invention is the creation of something new and useful, innovation is its implementation. Between 2014 and 2016, approximately 17% of U.S. firms (with five or more employees) introduced an innovation—that is, a new or improved product or process. Industries that produce products and services for the digital economy through information and communication technologies (ICT), both within and outside of the manufacturing sector, have some of the highest innovation rates. For example, innovations were reported by 61% of software publishing companies, 53% of computer and electronic products manufacturing companies, and 47% of data processing and hosting companies (Figure 28). Industries that produce health-related products and technologies also report above-average innovation rates, including medical equipment and supplies (44%), chemicals (45%), and scientific R&D services (43%). Companies that produced navigational, medical, and other instruments, under the broader computer and electronic products industry category, also report an above average innovation rate (60%).

U.S. companies reporting product or process innovation, by selected industry: 2014–16

Note(s)

Electrical equipment includes appliances. Physical, engineering, and life sciences R&D excludes biotechnology.

Source(s)

NCSES, 2016 BRDIS.

Indicators 2020: Innovation

Data on venture capital investment show emerging areas where investors see potential commercial impacts. In 2018, most of the global venture capital funds were received by the United States (44%) and China (36%). In the United States, venture capital is focused primarily in areas that rely on software, including mobile technologies, AI, big data, industrials, and financial technology. Among these technologies, AI investment grew the most since 2013. AI technologies include machine learning, autonomous robotics and vehicles, computable statistics, computer vision, language processing, virtual agents, and neural networks. In China, ICT, which includes software, accounted for slightly more than half of total investment.

Americans’ Perceptions about Science

Public perceptions of S&T can influence social acceptance of innovations as well as the progress of science. For example, such perceptions could influence willingness to fund S&T through public investment (Besley 2018; Miller, Pardo, and Niwa 1997; Muñoz, Moreno, and Luján 2012), as well as young people’s willingness to pursue S&E careers (Besley 2015; Losh 2010). Americans overwhelmingly believe that science creates more opportunities for the next generation (92% in 2018) and that the federal government should provide funds for scientific research (84%) (Figure 29). Many Americans continue to have a “great deal of confidence” in the scientific community (44%). This perception has remained stable since 1973 (37%) and is second only to confidence in the military (59%). A substantial percentage of Americans also think science makes life change too fast (49%).


Americans' views of science: Selected years, 2001–18

Note(s)

Questions were not fielded in all years. The most recent attitudes data are from the General Social Survey (GSS) 2018 (available at https://gss.norc.org/getthedata/Pages/Home.aspx), conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago. Historical attitudes data are from the Survey of Consumer Attitudes, conducted by the University of Michigan, and from the Survey of Public Attitudes Toward and Understanding of Science and Technology, conducted by NCSES (both available at https://www.icpsr.umich.edu/icpsrweb/ICPSR/studies/28368). The following questions from these surveys are used in these figures:

- Agree that science generates opportunities for next generation: Data show responses of “strongly agree” and “agree” with the statement, Because of science and technology, there will be more opportunities for the next generation.

- Agree that government should fund basic scientific research: Data show responses of “strongly agree” and “agree” with the statement, Even if it brings no immediate benefits, scientific research that advances the frontiers of knowledge is necessary and should be supported by the federal government.

- Agree that science makes life change too fast: Data show responses of “strongly agree” and “agree” with the statement, Science makes our way of life change too fast.

- Have a great deal of confidence in the scientific community: Data show respondents expressing a "great deal of confidence" when asked, As far as the people running these institutions are concerned, would you say that you have a great deal of confidence, only some confidence, or hardly any confidence at all in them?

Source(s)

NCSES, special tabulations (2019) by SRI International of the 2001 Survey of Public Attitudes Toward and Understanding of Science and Technology, NCSES; NCSES, special tabulations (2019) by SRI International of the 2004 Survey of Consumer Attitudes, University of Michigan; NCSES, special tabulations (2019) by SRI International of the 2006–16 General Social Survey, NORC at the University of Chicago.

Indicators 2020: Public Attitudes and Understanding

Attitudes toward science vary by level of education and other demographic groups. Almost all Americans across all education levels report that they believe science will benefit future generations and favor federal support for scientific research (Figure 30). However, a “great deal of confidence” in the scientific community is higher among those with more advanced education (68% of graduate degree holders, compared with 29% of those with less than a high school diploma) as well as among men (50%, compared with 39% of women) and those with higher income (55% in the highest income quartile, compared with 37% in the lowest income quartile). About 68% of those with less than a high school diploma agree that science makes life change too fast. For those with a graduate degree, 45% share this view (Figure 30).

Americans' views of science, by education level: 2018

Note(s)

The most recent attitudes data are from the General Social Survey (GSS) 2018 (available at https://gss.norc.org/getthedata/Pages/Home.aspx), conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago. Historical attitudes data are from the Survey of Consumer Attitudes, conducted by the University of Michigan, and from the Survey of Public Attitudes Toward and Understanding of Science and Technology, conducted by NCSES (both available at https://www.icpsr.umich.edu/icpsrweb/ICPSR/studies/28368). The following questions from these surveys are used in these figures:

- Agree that science generates opportunities for next generation: Data show responses of “strongly agree” and “agree” with the statement, Because of science and technology, there will be more opportunities for the next generation.

- Agree that government should fund basic scientific research: Data show responses of “strongly agree” and “agree” with the statement, Even if it brings no immediate benefits, scientific research that advances the frontiers of knowledge is necessary and should be supported by the federal government.

- Agree that science makes life change too fast: Data show responses of “strongly agree” and “agree” with the statement, Science makes our way of life change too fast.

- Have a great deal of confidence in the scientific community: Data show respondents expressing a "great deal of confidence" when asked, As far as the people running these institutions are concerned, would you say that you have a great deal of confidence, only some confidence, or hardly any confidence at all in them?

Source(s)

NCSES, special tabulations (2019) by SRI International of the 2018 General Social Survey, NORC at the University of Chicago.

Indicators 2020: Public Attitudes and Understanding