Innovation and technology – key enablers for transition to climate neutrality

23 November 2021
 4th edition of the report on the innovative activity of the world’s top corporate R&D investors
Technology and innovation are major building blocks in achieving the deep cuts in carbon emissions enabling the transition to a net-zero carbon world
©EU 2021

Innovative patents - key to achieve the ambitious climate goals

Technology and innovation are major building blocks in achieving the deep cuts in carbon emissions enabling the transition to a net-zero carbon world, while boosting growth opportunities and strengthening productivity, especially in the post-pandemic recovery.

The world’s top corporate Research & Development (R&D) investors can play an active and instrumental role in reaching climate neutrality, by developing, owning and commercialising low-carbon technologies, and by presenting and analysing data on their patent and trademark portfolios, with a particular emphasis on intellectual property rights related to climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Key investors in R&D worldwide and the polarised areas for patents

The total investment in R&D of the top 2 000 R&D investing companies worldwide amounted to EUR 805.1 billion in R&D in 2018, namely 87.7% of the estimated total R&D investment financed by the business sector globally. In 2018, four economies (the United States, EU27, China and Japan) represented jointly almost 85% of the total R&D invested, the United States being by far the top R&D investing economy. The top five economies in terms of location of inventive activity are Japan, the United States, EU27, Korea and China. Germany accounts for more than 50% of patents invented in the EU.

60% of the patent families owned by R&D investors are concentrated in three sectors: “Computer electronics”, "Transport equipment", and "Machinery", while more than 50% of trademarks is owned by R&D investors operating in three sectors: "Computer electronics", "Chemicals", and “Pharmaceuticals".

The gender gap in patent applications is very large. Companies with the highest shares of patents invented by women are located in Spain (37%), the United States (29%), and Belgium (26%). Sectors with the highest shares (around and above 50%) of women's inventions are "Pharmaceuticals", "Biotechnology" and "Chemistry".

R&D investors and climate-related innovation

The world’s top R&D investors own 70% of climate change mitigation or adaptation patents (against 63% of patents on all technologies) and over 10% of global climate-related trademarks (compared to just over 6% of total trademarks) for the period 2016-2018. The report shows that the top investors are key to maintain the global pace of climate-related innovation, but breakthrough inventions seem more likely come from other inventors, such as young firms.

Another finding of the report is that some countries are specialising in climate-related innovation (e.g., Denmark) while others specialise in the commercialisation of climate-related goods and services (e.g., China).

Focusing on a specific subset of key technologies for climate neutrality, (i.e. renewable energy, electric cars, and hydrogen), the EU27 does not appear to be strongly specialised in any of these, but has a rather broad technological base contributing to these key technologies in equal measure. Similarly, US-based firms are not specialised in any of the above climate-related technologies. In contrast, several Asian countries exhibit clear specialisation patterns resulting in the leaderships of Japan in hydrogen technologies, of Korea in electric cars and batteries and of China in renewable energy technologies


The report was presented and discussed at the CONCORDi biennial conference on the economics and policy aspects of corporate R&D and innovation. 2021 edition was organised by the Joint Research Centre in association with the European Association for Research and Technology Organisations (EARTO), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).