Sunday, February 5, 2017

5/2/17: European Patents and Ireland's 'Knowledge Economy' Myths

Irish policymakers are keen on promoting Ireland as a technology and R&D centre of excellence, often claiming the country is a ‘Knowledge Economy’, a ‘Data Island’, a ‘Europe’s Tech Capital’ and so on. While catchy, these tag lines are far from reality, and, in fact, represent an empirically dubious proposition. 

To establish this claim, consider the European Patent Office data on patent filings and approvals, with the latest data set covering the period of 2006-2015. 

As chart below clearly shows, Ireland is far from being a significant source of patent filing in Europe, despite the fact that many patents from Ireland are filed by the U.S. and other multinationals, including a score of foreign companies that choose to tax-invert into Ireland. The EPO data, in fact, fails to control for this distortion. Still, even with those companies filings counted as ‘Irish’ by origin, Ireland ranks 14th in a key metric of the rate of European Patent Applications per million of inhabitants. 

Worse, Irish rate of patent applications (119 per 1 million of inhabitants) is below the mean for the sub-sample of European states (including EU28 states and other countries within the EEA). Statistically, Irish rate of patent applications per inhabitant is not distinguishable from the rates filed by Italy and Slovenia, and is well below the rate recorded for France, Belgium, Austria, Germany, Denmark, Finland, Sweden and the Netherlands. Irish numbers are also statistically indistinguishable from the global average - the average that includes non-European states’ filings. It is worth noting that the data set includes other countries, that similar to Ireland serve as major tax optimnization locations for R&D and IP, e.g. Luxembourg and the Netherlands. However, even controlling for these states, Irish data does not shine beyond being average.

In absolute terms, Irish patent filings and applications with the EPO have trended up in 2006-2010 period, but have since flat-lined (on trend) for filings and declined (on trend) for applications. 

In addition to the chart above, combined filings and applications for EPO patents by Irish-origination stood at 1,325 in 2015, down on 1,364 in 2014 and down on 1,356 average for 2008-2011 period. While data can be interpreted in a number of ways, there is clearly no indication of an improving trend in either filings or applications over the recent years. This comes on foot of aggressive acceleration in tax inversions into Ireland in previous years - an acceleration that brought into Ireland a range of large R&D-intensive companies.

Consistent with the above, Ireland’s share of all European Patent Office filings and applications has declined, on trend, in recent years, as evidenced by data presented in the chart below:

As the chart above shows, Ireland accounts of just 0.266% of all EPO patent filings and 0.364% of all EPO patent applications. Separately reported data for patents approvals shows Irish share of all patents granted by EPO to be just 0.395%. The number is laughably negligible by Europe-wide standards and is massively out of line with Irish share of European GDP. However, these numbers are consistent with the simple fact, also highlighted by EPO data, that Ireland fails to register in the top tier of generators of patents in any of the sectors tracked by EPO. 

In summary, Ireland is far from being a powerhouse for R&D and knowledge economy activities as measured by a key research output measured by European authorities. 

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