Manufactured stagnation?

Growth of PCT applications in Australia and worldwide graph: IP Australia report
11 April 2017

If patent activity is a mirror of innovation, Australia's advanced manufacturing presents a mixed picture, according to a new report by IP Australia.

Advanced manufacturing is considered as being of critical importance to Australia's manufacturing future (although at present there is no universally accepted definition of what it actually is). 

But how well are we performing in this area?

Advanced manufacturing: while there is no universally definition it is broadly understood as involving new ways of manufacturing existing products, and using advanced technologies - including those enabled by physical and biological sciences, such as nanotechnology, chemistry, and biology - to create new products. It also can include knowledge-intensive improvements in the pre- and post-production phase of a product. (a definition by a US Government advisory body can be found here

To get a better understanding of Australia's advanced manufacturing capacity, IP Australia  compared its output of intellectual property against the rest of the world.

The study's report shows that the global advanced manufacturing landscape is largely dominated by three countries - the US, Japan, and Germany. Together these countries accounted for 65% of patent applications filed under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) in 2013-2014.

PCT applications across countries graph: IP Australia report

Australia contributed 0.9% of global applications, and ranked 14th in a country-by-country comparison. 

Notably, though, between 2000 and 2013 the number of Australian PCT applications increased by just 15%, while they more than doubled across the globe.

Australian advanced manufacturing heavily relies on public research, with research organisations overwhelmingly outnumbering private enterprise in the top 15 patent applicants in 2013-14. 

Almost twice as many PCT applications came from the CSIRO (704) than from the next in line, the University of Queensland (361).

The Cochlear Group (291) and Resmed (258) were the strongest performing private enterprises in Australia.

The report also assessed the performance of eight individual categories of advanced manufacturing technologies.

It found that most PCT patent applications in Australia and abroad are from the electrical sector, which includes communication and measurement technologies and electrical components .

Globally, the strongest growth in the 14 years to 2013 was observed in the electrical sector (up 128%) and in mechanical engineering (155%).

In Australia, however, most of the increased patent activity were in medical devices  (up 46%) and chemical engineering (up 33%), the latter playing an important role in mining. 

Australia's relative strength of these two sectors is also highlighted by their degree of technological specialisation.

In a comparison of 36 countries, medical devices and chemical engineering were Australia's highest highest ranking sectors (10th and 13th, respectively).

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