So any attempt to identify innovative companies by the number of patents in 2004 would have completely left out Facebook, which 10 years later has become a company worth $208 billion, with 1.35 billion users.
I mention this as a cautionary tale before introducing some eyebrow-raising findings from Thomson Reuters, which Thursday released its 2014 Top 100 Global Innovators. The rankings analyze worldwide patent activity to honor world leaders in innovation. While there are some standouts companies getting recognized, such as Google, ultimately here’s why this parade needs not only to be rained on, but to be doused by a monsoon:
1. BlackBerry? BlackBerry made the cut?
The Canadian company once dominated the smartphone space, but now its market share is less than one percent of the global market. While BlackBerry may be getting patents approved, that doesn’t appear to be translating into innovation. (just odd-looking phones) Yet this is the second straight year Blackberry has been recognized by Thomson Reuters.
2. Japan dominates the list.
Of the 100 companies on Thomson Reuters’s list, 39 are from Japan. More than a third of the most innovative companies allegedly come from Japan! This is a country that has gone through two lost decades. Headlines include phrases like “save Japan’s economy.” While there are some steps being taken to reignite the economy it remains to be seen if all this patent activity will actually translate to innovation and economic growth in the coming years.
3. China makes an appearance.
Thomson Reuters is in its fourth year of producing these rankings. And only now has a single company from the world’s second largest economy made an appearance. And it’s not who you might think. Alibaba, of the record $25 billion initial public offering? Nope. Xiaomi, the cell phone manufacturer that’s a threat to Samsung? Nah. And it’s not Baidu or Tencent, but Huawei, which makes networking and telecommunications equipment.
4. The puzzling selection of American companies
Facebook, which I mentioned before, isn’t on the list. Neither is Amazon. Instead Microsoft — which missed the boat on the Web search and mobile phones — is on the list. So are Hewlett-Packard and AT&T. Uber and Airbnb, two companies who are transforming industries, didn’t make the cut. Neither did Tesla.
While I tip my cap at Thomson Reuters for attempting to name the top 100 global innovators, it took on a near impossible task and failed. Right now in dorm rooms, garages and co-working spaces around the world, there are kids we’ve never heard of doing revolutionary things. Maybe it’s with the bitcoin blockchain, maybe it’s augmented reality. It’s difficult to keep tabs on every start-up around the world, let alone which one is on the verge of something great.
Update: Thomson Reuters sent this response to the story:
The Top 100 Global Innovators methodology is an objective, scientific measurement of innovation that uses global patent data to qualify and quantify innovation. There are many ways to measure innovation. We believe that our peer-reviewed methodology is unique in its approach, using the best data currently available to measure both the breadth and influence of corporate innovation. Our methodology is based on four principle criteria: patent approval success rate, global reach of a patent portfolio, influence as measured by patent citations (removing self cites) and overall patent volume. By analyzing corporate patent portfolios in this manner, we are able to identify the sweet spot of innovation where pure R&D meets corporate strategy for protecting intellectual property. While it is possible that this approach excludes many companies that are major innovators in their respective fields, it is the best measure there is to objectively evaluate corporate commitment to innovation and protection of intellectual property.