Invention, knowledge transfer, and innovation are distinct but interrelated components of a complex system for transforming creativity and knowledge from science and engineering (S&E) into benefits to society and the economy. Long-term impacts of the innovation process emerge as knowledge, inventions, and innovations diffuse through society. Major advances such as electricity, engines, sanitation systems, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, and telecommunication have had widespread benefits where developed as well as around the world (Gordon 2016). The innovation process has the potential for less desirable outcomes as well, including rapid obsolescence of some job skills, increased inequality across regions and groups of people, vulnerability of systems to attacks, and ethical issues raised by new technologies.
The innovation process is multidimensional. Forming a complete picture of this process requires indicators on actors as individuals as well as through institutions including industry, government, academia, and nonprofits. It also requires indicators of the physical capital and infrastructure, both public and private; intangible capital; and publicly available knowledge that enable innovation.
This report covers innovation-related activities, such as patenting and registration of trademarks, as well as the creation of intangible capital, such as software, research and development (R&D), and other creative originals.1 Furthermore, the report describes university and government efforts to make their technologies available for commercial development and to support the creation of new businesses. The first section discusses invention and provides patenting data by sector and technology area as well as an international comparison of patenting activity. Both utility and design patents are presented. Design patents protect the visual characteristics of an invention, while a utility patent protects the way that the invention works. The Beyond Patents section covers trademarks. Trademarks protect symbols, words, or designs that distinguish the source of products.
The next section of the report focuses on knowledge transfer, including technology-transfer activity data for academic institutions and the federal government. Within the U.S. innovation system, these institutions have a special role creating basic research insights as well as supporting activities to transfer science and technology (S&T) knowledge into use. Technology transfer activities include invention disclosures, patenting, licensing, and collaborative R&D agreements. Citations from patent documents to peer-reviewed literature acknowledge the priority and foundation of S&E knowledge. Coauthorships between authors affiliated with businesses and authors from other sectors are indicators of collaboration across sectors. The last section focuses on innovation, with indicators of the emergence of new and improved products, funding for new businesses through venture capital, and the number and employment effects of small and fast-growing firms. Changes in productivity provide a longer-term perspective on the technological change that innovation brings about and its impact on economic growth.