Fact of the Week: An Increase in Robot Adoption Is Associated With an Increase in Patent Applications Among Chinese Manufacturers
Source: Lei Wang, Yahong Zhou, and Benjamin Chiao, “Robots and firm innovation: Evidence from Chinese manufacturing,” Journal of Business Research 162, no. 0148-2963 (July 2023): 1-12.
Commentary: A July 2023 study by Lei Wang, Yahong Zhou, and Benjamin Chiao found a strong positive relationship between robot adoption and firm innovation among Chinese manufacturing firms. Using data from the State Intellectual Property Office of China (SIPO) and from the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), the study covered the period of 2003–2013. The authors measured innovation using data on patents from the SIPO. Additionally, the authors measured robot adoption using robot density, defined as the number of robots per 10,000 workers. The study found that robot adoption was highest in the automotive industry, at around 83 robots per 10,000 workers.
The study looked at the effect of robot adoption both on general innovation and sustainable innovation. Sustainable innovation is understood to be innovation that takes social and environmental considerations into account. When analyzing general innovation, a 1-percent increase in robot density was associated with an increase of 0.03 percentage points in patent applications. When looking at sustainable innovation, a 1-percent increase in robot density was associated with an increase of 0.001 percentage points sustainable patent applications. Additionally, a 1-percent increase in robot density was associated with an increase of 0.025 percentage points in patented utility models and an increase of 0.003 percentage points in design patents. The authors argue that these findings point to the positive spillovers from robot adoption at the firm level. In particular, they suggest that robotics technologies play a key role in firms’ R&D activities and in the creation of new patented products or processes.