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European companies increase their R&D investment but continue to lag behind the US and China

research and development

Companies in the European Union (EU27) have increased their investment in research and development (R&D), according to the 2020 EU Industrial Research and Development Scoreboard published on the 17th of December. However, in the ranking of the top 2500 R&D investing companies worldwide, the growth rate of EU companies (5.6%) is far below that of their Chinese (21%) and US (10.8%) counterparts.

Results of the EU Industrial R&D investment

In 2019, European companies invested 5.6% more in R&D, compared to 4.7% in 2018. The sectors that have driven this growth include the automotive, ICT and health.

In the ranking of the 2,500 largest R&D investors in the world, the United States ranks first with 775 companies (348 billion euros), followed by 421 companies based in the EU (189 billion euros) and China 536 companies (119 billion euros).

The 421 EU-based companies employ over 16.8 million people, an increase of 0.2% on the previous year. The continued increase in the number of Chinese companies in the Scoreboard and the departure of UK companies from EU figures weakens the EU’s representation among major corporate R&D investors, pointing to strategic specialisations and gaps in industrial R&D capabilities. The Scoreboard shows the need for more and growing companies in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology sectors and in the ICT sector.

Global R&D growth was driven by the US ICT sector (14.5%), followed by the health sector (13.7%). EU R&D growth was driven by automotive (4.2%), ICT (8.6%) and health (5%). EU companies compete with the United States in the aerospace and defence sector and in the chemical sector, where Japan is in the first place.

The EU is the world leader in high-value green patents, closely followed by Japan and the US. Between 2000 and 2016, the EU has produced around 60 000 high-value green inventions, about 6 times more than China. The EU and the US have the largest share of high-value inventions, which, between 2010 and 2016, amounted on average to about 60% of all their green inventions. South Korea (17%) and Japan (32%) have lower shares, and 3% of Chinese inventions are classified as high value.

The report also includes an analysis of companies’ disclosure and reputation scores in relation to the UN Sustainable Development Goals and evidence of the role of industrial R&D. The EU and Japan achieve scores of 54 out of 100, China and the US 42.2 and 38.3, respectively.

About the EU Industrial Research and Development Scoreboard

The European Commission (Directorate-General for Research and Innovation and the Joint Research Centre) has been publishing the “EU Industrial Research and Development Scoreboard” annually since 2004. The 2020 edition includes the 2,500 companies investing the largest amounts in R&D in the world in 2019/20.

The Scoreboard data, obtained from the latest published company accounts, includes key indicators on the 2,500 parent companies and the more than 800,000 subsidiaries, which make it possible to evaluate the economic and innovation performance of companies.

Each of the 2500 companies, based in 43 countries, invested at least 34.7 million euros in R&D for a total of 904.2 billion euros. Total R&D in Scoreboard 2020 is equivalent to approximately 90% of global R&D funded by companies. The sample includes 421 companies based in the EU27, representing 21% of the total R&D in the sample, 775 companies in the USA. (38%), 309 Japanese companies (13%), 536 Chinese companies (13%) and 459 from the rest of the world (15%).

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