New Report Shows 36 Ways China Is Catching Up To or Overtaking the United States in Innovation

April 8, 2019

WASHINGTON—As China works to attain global competitive advantage in advanced technology industries, there is a misperception that it cannot innovate on its own. However, a new report from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), the world’s leading think tank for science and technology policy, shows that China is making more rapid progress in innovation and advanced technology industries than the United States, cutting the innovation gap between the two countries by a factor of 1.5 in a decade.

“In the span of about a decade, the Chinese economy has made dramatic progress in innovation relative to the United States,” said Robert D. Atkinson, ITIF President and lead author of the report. “Innovation is not just about who is first, but also who gains global market share. Backed up by a powerful, unfair arsenal of state policies, China has evolved from an innovation-copier to a reverse innovator and now an innovator in its own right.”

The report examines 36 indicators of China’s scientific and technological progress vis-à-vis the United States in the last 10 years for which data are available. In an average of all 36 indicators, China has cut the gap with the United States by a factor of 1.5 from the respective base years to the most recent years. In particular, China has closed the gap in areas such as number of supercomputers, patents, and top universities:

  • China’s proportion of the world’s top supercomputers relative to the United States has grown by a factor of 44.8 from 2008 to 2018—from 5 percent to 208 percent.
  • Patents filed under the international Patent Cooperation Treaty grew by a factor of 8 from 2008 to 2018—from 10 percent to 81 percent of U.S. patents.
  • China's proportion of the top universities weighted by ranking relative to the United States grew by a factor of 2.9 from 2009 to 2018—from 9.5 percent to 28 percent.

“Losing leadership in technology-based industries is a much greater threat to U.S. prosperity, competitiveness, and national security than losing more commodity-based industries,” said Caleb Foote, ITIF Research Assistant and co-author of the report. “To ensure its continued leadership, the United States must put in place a robust national innovation and competitiveness strategy.”

Read the report.