Australia’s innovation rate bounces back

Australia’s business innovation rate is steadily rising as the economy recovers from the GFC, according to a new report.

The 2010 Innovation Index of Australian, produced by IBM Australia and the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research at the University of Melbourne Industry, reveals a 6.1% increase in innovation activity between 2007 and 2008, compared with an average rate of increase in the period since 1990 of 3.1% per annum.

The innovation rate – measured by patents, trademarks, designs and research and development across different industries – increased by 2.4% in 2008 and 1.3% in 2009.

The top five performing innovation industries in 2008, the peak year for innovation in the past decade, were cultural and recreational services, personal services, retail, communications, and wholesale trade.

The study also found a strong link between the top performing innovation sectors and the top technology innovators, which were communications, retail, wholesale trade, finance and utilities.

IBM Australia chief technologist Glen Wightwick says the study shows information and communications technology is a key enabler of innovation.

“As we move into the next phase of Australia’s growth, underpinned by smart systems and a ubiquitous broadband network, we expect innovation growth to continue, despite any continuing GFC lag in the next study,” he says.

The index also found that Australia is increasingly focused on the commercialisation of innovation, with patent intensity quadrupling in the period under review.

A patent is a set of exclusive rights granted to an inventor for a limited time in exchange for a public disclosure of an invention.

According to IBM, consumer-focused industries are a particularly innovative section of the economy because a lot of patents and trademarks are focused on improving customer relationships.

According to the report, the number of patents per person employed in the retail sector grew by more than 300% in the last decade, which helped industry productivity rise by 15.8% from 2003 to 2008, compared to just 4.8% in the economy as a whole.

According to Melbourne Institute Professor Beth Webster, patents are not always good for the economy “because a patent is a monopoly over the knowledge and the idea”.

Many patents are filed for products that are never made or which make no money.

A spokesman for IP Australia, which manages patents and trademarks, says patents are not a guarantee of success but are useful.

“Anecdotally, it is difficult to attract investment without a patent,” he says.

“Business owners are also starting to think more globally and a strong IP strategy based on patents and trademarks is invaluable when a business starts exporting.”

This article first appeared on StartupSmart, Australia’s premier site for people starting a company.

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