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Innovation can be instrumental to the success of economies, at macro and micro scales. While investment provides powerful fuel for innovation—the relationship isn’t always straightforward.

The 2020 ranking from the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) reveals just that.

The above map breaks down the most innovative countries in each World Bank income group, based on data from WIPO’s Global Innovation Index (GII), which evaluates nations across 80 innovation indicators like research and development (R&D), venture capital, and high-tech production.

While wealthier nations continue to lead global innovation, the GII also shows that middle-income countries—particularly in Asia—are making impressive strides.

Fueling Innovation

The economic and regulatory spheres within countries can have an enormous impact on their level of innovation—and vice versa, as innovation in turn becomes an economic driver, stimulating further investment.

The positive feedback loop between investment and innovation results in the success of some of the top countries in the table below, which shows the three most innovative countries in each income group.

Income Group Group Rank Country (Overall Rank)
High 1 🇨🇭 Switzerland (#1)
High 2 🇸🇪 Sweden (#2)
High 3 🇺🇸 United States of America (#3)
Upper Middle 1 🇨🇳 China (#14)
Upper Middle 2 🇲🇾 Malaysia (#33)
Upper Middle 3 🇧🇬 Bulgaria (#37)
Lower Middle 1 🇻🇳 Vietnam (#42)
Lower Middle 2 🇺🇦 Ukraine (#45)
Lower Middle 3 🇮🇳 India (#48)
Low 1 🇹🇿 Tanzania (#88)
Low 2 🇷🇼 Rwanda (#91)
Low 3 🇲🇼 Malawi (#111)

Switzerland, Sweden, and the U.S. are the top three in the high-income group. Considering that Switzerland has the second-highest GDP per capita globally, it is not a surprise leader on this list.

Upper middle-income countries are led by China, Malaysia, and Bulgaria. Note that China far surpasses other nations in the upper-middle-income group ranking, reaching 14th spot overall in 2020. Others in the income group only appear in the overall ranking after 30th place.

Below are several income group leaders, and some of their key areas of output:

  • Switzerland: First in Knowledge Creation, second in Global Brand Value
  • U.S.: First in Entertainment and Media, Computer Software Spending, Intellectual Property Receipts
  • China: First in Patents Registered
  • Vietnam: Second in High-Technology Net Exports
  • India: First in Information and Communication Technology Services Exports
  • Tanzania: 23rd in Printing and Other Media

Shining a Light on Global Innovators

Since 2011, Switzerland has led the world in innovation according to this index, and the top five countries have seen few changes in recent years.

Sweden regained second place in 2019 and the U.S. moved into third—positions they maintain in 2020. The Netherlands entered the top two in 2018 and now sits at fifth.

Here’s how the overall ranking shakes out:

Rank Country Score Income Group
1 Switzerland 66.1 High
2 Sweden 62.5 High
3 United States of America 60.6 High
4 United Kingdom 59.8 High
5 Netherlands 58.8 High
6 Denmark 57.5 High
7 Finland 57.0 High
8 Singapore 56.6 High
9 Germany 56.6 High
10 South Korea 56.1 High
11 Hong Kong, China 54.2 High
12 France 53.7 High
13 Israel 53.6 High
14 China 53.3 Upper Middle
15 Ireland 53.1 High
16 Japan 52.7 High
17 Canada 52.3 High
18 Luxembourg 50.8 High
19 Austria 50.1 High
20 Norway 49.3 High
21 Iceland 49.2 High
22 Belgium 49.1 High
23 Australia 48.4 High
24 Czech Republic 48.3 High
25 Estonia 48.3 High
26 New Zealand 47.0 High
27 Malta 46.4 High
28 Italy 45.7 High
29 Cyprus 45.7 High
30 Spain 45.6 High
31 Portugal 43.5 High
32 Slovenia 42.9 High
33 Malaysia 42.4 Upper Middle
34 United Arab Emiratesx 42.4 High
35 Hungary 41.5 High
36 Latvia 41.1 High
37 Bulgaria 40.0 Upper Middle
38 Poland 40.0 High
39 Slovakia 39.7 High
40 Lithuania 39.2 High
41 Croatia 37.3 High
42 Viet Nam 37.1 Lower Middle
43 Greece 36.8 High
44 Thailand 36.7 Upper Middle
45 Ukraine 36.3 Lower Middle
46 Romania 36.0 Upper Middle
47 Russian Federation 35.6 Upper Middle
48 India 35.6 Lower Middle
49 Montenegro 35.4 Upper Middle
50 Philippines 35.2 Lower Middle
51 Turkey 34.9 Upper Middle
52 Mauritius 34.4 Upper Middle
53 Serbia 34.3 Upper Middle
54 Chile 33.9 High
55 Mexico 33.6 Upper Middle
56 Costa Rica 33.5 Upper Middle
57 North Macedonia 33.4 Upper Middle
58 Mongolia 33.4 Lower Middle
59 Republic of Moldova 33.0 Lower Middle
60 South Africa 32.7 Upper Middle
61 Armenia 32.6 Upper Middle
62 Brazil 31.9 Upper Middle
63 Georgia 31.8 Upper Middle
64 Belarus 31.3 Upper Middle
65 Tunisia 31.2 Lower Middle
66 Saudi Arabia 30.9 High
67 Iran (Islamic Republic of) 30.9 High
68 Colombia 30.8 Upper Middle
69 Uruguay 30.8 High
70 Qatar 30.8 High
71 Brunei Darussalam 29.8 High
72 Jamaica 29.1 Upper Middle
73 Panama 29.0 High
74 Bosnia and Herzegovina 29.0 Upper Middle
75 Morocco 29.0 Lower Middle
76 Peru 28.8 Upper Middle
77 Kazakhstan 28.6 Upper Middle
78 Kuwait 28.4 High
79 Bahrain 28.4 High
80 Argentina 28.3 Upper Middle
81 Jordan 27.8 Upper Middle
82 Azerbaijan 27.2 Upper Middle
83 Albania 27.1 Upper Middle
84 Oman 26.5 High
85 Indonesia 26.5 Lower Middle
86 Kenya 26.1 Lower Middle
87 Lebanon 26.0 Upper Middle
88 United Republic of Tanzania 25.6 Lower I
89 Botswana 25.4 Upper Middle
90 Dominican Republic 25.1 Upper Middle
91 Rwanda 25.1 Lower I
92 El Salvador 24.9 Lower Middle
93 Uzbekistan 24.5 Lower Middle
94 Kyrgyzstan 24.5 Lower Middle
95 Nepal 24.4 Lower I
96 Egypt 24.2 Lower Middle
97 Paraguay 24.1 Upper Middle
98 Trinidad and Tobago 24.1 High
99 Ecuador 24.1 Upper Middle
100 Cabo Verde 23.9 Lower Middle
101 Sri Lanka 23.8 Upper Middle
102 Senegal 23.8 Lower Middle
103 Honduras 23.0 Lower Middle
104 Namibia 22.5 Upper Middle
105 Bolivia (Plurinational State of) 22.4 Lower Middle
106 Guatemala 22.4 Upper Middle
107 Pakistan 22.3 Lower Middle
108 Ghana 22.3 Lower Middle
109 Tajikistan 22.2 Lower I
110 Cambodia 21.5 Lower Middle
111 Malawi 21.4 Lower I
112 Côte d’Ivoire 21.2 Lower Middle
113 Lao People’s Democratic Republic 20.7 Lower Middle
114 Uganda 20.5 Lower I
115 Madagascar 20.4 Lower I
116 Bangladesh 20.4 Lower Middle
117 Nigeria 20.1 Lower Middle
118 Burkina Faso 20.0 Lower I
119 Cameroon 20.0 Lower Middle
120 Zimbabwe 20.0 Lower Middle
121 Algeria 19.5 Upper Middle
122 Zambia 19.4 Lower Middle
123 Mali 19.2 Lower I
124 Mozambique 18.7 Lower I
125 Togo 18.5 Lower I
126 Benin 18.1 Lower I
127 Ethiopia 18.1 Lower I
128 Niger 17.8 Lower I
129 Myanmar 17.7 Lower Middle
130 Guinea 17.3 Lower I
131 Yemen 13.6 Lower I

Nordic countries like Sweden, Denmark, and Finland continue their strong showing across innovation factors—like Knowledge Creation, Global Brand Value, Environmental Performance, and Intellectual Property Receipts—leading to their continued presence atop global innovators.

But the nations making the biggest moves in GII ranking are found in Asia.

China, Vietnam, India, and the Philippines have risen the most of all countries, with all four now in the top 50. China broke into the top 15 in 2019 and remains the only middle-income economy in the top 30.

In 2020, South Korea became the second Asian economy to enter the top 10, after Singapore. As the first Asian country to move into the global top five, Singapore joined the leaders in 2018, and now sits at 8th place.

In another first for 2020, India has now broken into the top 50.

Innovation Input & Output: The Overachievers

While annual rankings like these confirm the importance of a robust economy and innovation investment, variations in the relationship between input and output are not uncommon.

The correlation between wealth and innovation isn’t always straightforward, and neither is the connection between innovation input and output.

Below is an overview of the GII inputs and outputs, as well as several of the world’s overall leaders in each pillar.

Input variables can be characterized as factors that foster innovation—everything from the quality of a country’s university institutions to its levels of ecological sustainability.

Input Pillars Input Examples Input Leaders
Institutions
Human Capital & Research
Infrastructure
Market Sophistication
Business Sophistication
University Institutions
Regulatory Environment
Intangible Assets
Entrepreneurship
R&D Spending
Venture Capital Deals
Researchers
1. Singapore
2. Switzerland
3. Sweden
4. U.S.
5. Denmark
6. U.K.
7. Hong Kong, China
8. Finland
9. Canada
10. South Korea

Output factors include innovation indicators like the creation of new businesses, and even the number of Wikipedia edits made per million people.

Output Pillars Output Types Output Leaders
Knowledge & Technology
Creative
Registered patents
Creative goods and services
Scientific publications
National feature films
Entertainment and media
High-tech manufacturing
1. Switzerland
2. Sweden
3. United Kingdom
4. Netherlands
5. U.S.A.
6. China
7. Germany
8. Finland
9. Denmark
10. South Korea

Countries with impressive innovation outputs compared to input levels include:

  • China: 26th in inputs, but sixth in overall innovation outputs
  • Netherlands: 11th in innovation input, but fourth across outputs
  • Thailand: 48th in overall input, first in business R&D
  • Malaysia: 34th in overall input, first in high-tech net exports

Innovation Fuel Reductions Up Ahead?

Although financial markets have ignited, the economy as a whole has not fared well since lockdowns began. This begs the question of whether a steep decline in innovation capital will follow.

In response to the 2020 pandemic, will spending on R&D echo the 2009 recession and aftermath of 9/11? Will venture capital flows continue to decline more than they have since 2018?

Because innovation is so entwined with the economic growth strategies of companies and nations alike, the WIPO notes that the potential decline may not be as severe as historical trends might suggest.

No Stopping Human Innovation

Thankfully, innovation opportunities are not solely contingent on the level of capital infused during any given year. Instead, the cumulative results of continuous innovation stimuli may be enough to maintain growth, while strategic cash reserves are put to use.

What the GII ranking shows is that inputs don’t always equal outputs—and that innovative strides can be made with even modest levels of capital flow.

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