Chipmakers most creative, drugmakers least?

November 15, 2011

Chipmakers including Intel and Qualcomm make up the world’s most innovative industry, according to a new analysis of patents by Thomson Reuters that is equally notable for some of the companies it does not include.

Thomson Reuters has just released its “Top 100 Global Innovators” list, which it compiled by scrutinizing patent data around the world using a peer-review methodology it developed.

“We tried to take an objective look at technology innovation and apply a composite measure not just of volumes, but also of influence in terms of citations of later published patents, in terms of globalization of patenting,” says Bob Stembridge, the lead analyst behind the study.

Other companies related to semiconductors on the list include Samsung, Analog Devices, SanDisk and Applied Materials, which invents and builds the equipment used to manufacture chips.

But a handful of companies currently seen as leading players in the chip industry are missing from the list.

Britain’s ARM Holdings, whose intellectual property has taken the tablet and smartphone industry by storm in the past few years, was absent from the compilation.

Also missing was Texas Instruments, the world’s No. 3 chipmaker and leader in analog semiconductors.

On the other hand, PC chipmaker Advanced Micro Devices, which is struggling to keep up with much larger Intel, is present and accounted for. Competing with Intel must involve filing a lot of patents, but with AMD severely lagging rivals in the mobile market, these days it doesn’t tend to be the first chip designer that springs to mind when thinking about creativity.

Why did semiconductors top the list of innovative sectors, while the pharmaceutical industry was 16th, behind industry manufacturing and healthcare products?

“In terms of semiconductor and electronic components you can see, for example, in mobile telephones there are many different ways to achieve the same end. So you can be creative and innovative around different methods of achieving the same end,” Stembridge said.

“Whereas perhaps in pharmaceuticals, a chemical compound is a chemical compound, and there’s only one way to patent that.”

Unsurprisingly, the list deemed the United States the most innovative country, with 40 percent of the top 100 companies — including Apple — widely viewed as among the world’s most innovative. But rival Google didn’t make the cut.

Also, not one Chinese company made the list, suggesting that a steady flow of patents from that country have yet to become a big influence on innovation around the world.

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