INSIGHT: Patents data reveal influence of majors and China’s effort

25 January 2011 17:34  [Source: ICIS news]

By Nigel Davis

LONDON (ICIS)--The latest annual review of patent activity from Thomson Reuters' Derwent Patents Index shows where the major chemical companies and others are trying to establish technological bridgeheads. 

Among the top 10 filers in key technology areas such as agrochemicals, fermentation, and chemical engineering are some big name producers. Tellingly, also, however, is the presence of at least one Chinese university in each category.

Chemical engineering patent activity surged by 14% in 2010, the review shows, a fact raised by ICIS’s John Baker in his new Chemicals and Innovation blog.

Among the top 10 filers in this category in 2010 are two Chinese Institutes: the University of Zhejiang and the University of Nanjing. China Petro-Chem Corp is the second placed here, after Toyota. Germany’s BASF is ranked in sixth place.

While the ranking is illustrative of activity in a relatively broad discipline it does indicate who might be ring fencing future avenues of technological expertise.

In agrochemicals, Bayer and BASF were the main filers last year, the two German companies running neck and neck in terms of the number of agrochemicals patents filed.

Sumitomo Chemical, Syngenta, Dow Chemical, the University of Southern China and DuPont occupy numbers three to seven in the rankings. The University of Nanjing is at number nine and Swiss specialties maker Clariant at number 10.

DuPont and Monsanto issued most patents related to fermentation, the data show, but again two Chinese universities are among the top 10 filers in a sector in which the right technology is likely to prove vitally important.

Companies are attempting to develop a strong knowledge base in greener process technologies and unlock the pathways to second generation biofuels.

DuPont has made a $6.3bn bid to take over enzymes expert Danisco, a company it partners with in bioplastics, and it sees advantages in a deal which will give it a stronger technology base from which to develop its biofuels knowledge base. The Danish group’s arch rival Novozymes is seventh in the list of patent filers in fermentation, according to the study.

The major chemical players are investing in the key areas of research, outlined by Thompson Reuters as indicative of the 2010 state of global innovation, ultimately to capture stronger product growth.

The breadth of interest is fascinating: BASF, for instance, is placed 10th in the patent league table for cosmetics. It shows that companies are taking the so-called megatrends - related to food and agriculture, energy, well-being and changing demographics- very seriously. And they are hedging their bets.

They will face some tough competition though. This snapshot of China’s research effort shows what is happening at the coal face. China’s companies will be the ones that challenge the status quo and are charged with bringing new technology to market.

Never an easy task, there are bound to be slip-ups and some will career off down blind alleys. But the global industrial competitive environment is changing and the extent and quality of China’s research effort is proving to be an important contributing factor.

The Chinese government has sought to encourage innovation with tax breaks and incentives and through investment in the country’s academic institutions.

In a report published in November last year, Thomson Reuters noted that China had become the world’s third largest filer of patents after the US and Japan.

It added: “If current trends continue, China is set to lead the patent information landscape in the near future.”

To discuss issues facing the chemical industry go to ICIS connect

By: Nigel Davis
+44 20 8652 3214

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