Patents: Switzerland leads the way
The number of patent applications is an important indicator of a country’s innovative capacity. No other country applies for as many patents per capita as Switzerland. The country should therefore continue to safeguard its ability to provide a research-friendly environment.
Friday, April 8, 2022
Switzerland has long been considered the world champion of innovation and was even able to maintain its leading position during the pandemic. After attaining first place in the Global Innovation Index in October 2021, Switzerland can also demonstrate its innovative strength through its many patent applications. According to Rainer Osterwalder, Director for Media Relations at the European Patent Office, Switzerland has applied for more than 8,400 patents. There are more now than ever before: “Switzerland performs extremely well. The country is in seventh place overall among all the applicant countries and third in Europe after Germany and France,” Osterwalder told the Swiss TV and radio service SRF. In relative terms, Switzerland is the frontrunner. No other country has filed more patents with the European Patent Office per capita.
Evidence of technological progress and long-term thinking
According to Osterwalder, the high volume of patents is due to the excellent combination of Swiss players involved: “It’s a good mix of large international companies, small innovative firms, start-ups but also universities and public research institutes with a strong interest in patents.” The high level of innovation indicates that Swiss companies and research institutions are planning for the longer term. According to Osterwalder, the many patents provide evidence of the long-term interests of companies and of their future developments. Contrary to many fears, patents do not impede progress. In fact, the opposite is true. A patent application not only protects an invention, but makes it public too. According to the SRF, patents are therefore also evidence of technological progress. After a maximum of 20 years, a patented invention may also be used and marketed by third parties.
A long history of innovation
In addition to the good mix of players involved in research, Switzerland’s great capacity for innovation is also based on its basic economic structures. Switzerland does not possess a wealth of raw materials and has never been able to export oil, gas, gold or steel to any significant degree. So ideas became one of the country's key exports. An innovative chemical and pharmaceutical industry developed, with the synthetic production of vitamin C becoming a major Swiss achievement. The same applies to the invention of Valium and the first antidepressant. Today, Switzerland is also the home of one of the most innovative medical technology sectors. The country has also been extremely inventive in other areas over the past two centuries. “SRF Trend” has compiled a list of nine interesting Swiss inventions:
Examples of Swiss inventions
- Computer mouse
Inventor: Logitech in 1985
Inventor: Jacques E. Brandenberger in 1908
- Hand blender
Inventor: Roger Perrinjaquet in 1950
Inventor: Michael Näf in 2003
- Vegetable peeler
Inventor: Alfred Neweczeral in 1947
- Electric guitar
Inventor: Adolph Rickenbacher in 1932
- Aluminium foil
Inventor: Heinrich Alfred Gautschi in 1905
- Sugar cubes
Inventor: Jacob Christoph Rad in 1843
- Chocolate bar
Inventor: Francois-Louis Cailler in 1819
Source: «SRF Trend»
Avoiding the “self-dwarfing” phenomenon
Despite all the excitement about Switzerland’s innovative strength, the country should not rest on its laurels. The NZZ newspaper warns that Switzerland is weakening, particularly when it comes to future technologies such as IT. Semiconductors, digital communication and computer technologies did not make it into the top ten technology fields that filed the highest number of applications. According to the NZZ, if Switzerland is not able to grow in these areas over the coming years, this could pose a threat to the country's innovative capacity.
Technological scepticism is also considered to be a threat to Switzerland’s innovative strength. Technology bans such as those in the fields of nuclear power and new cultivation technologies (CRISPR/Cas9), 5G scepticism and the increasing use of the precautionary principle all point to a rise in hostility toward technology and progress. However, innovation requires an openness to all technologies. Rather than imposing blanket bans, risks should be managed. This is the only way Switzerland can maintain its innovative capacity. Switzerland’s “self-dwarfing” tendency – the voluntary renunciation of advanced technologies – does not present a promising scenario for the future.
Innovators in the food sector also need patents. We present just two examples of Swiss start-ups that produce food innovations in Switzerland only thanks to patented innovative technologies.
Planted – popular meat substitute from Switzerland
The vegan products of ETH spin-off company Planted, made from peas, are designed to taste particularly like meat products, and apparently they do. An innovative patented extrusion process converts vegetable protein and fibers into a structure that mimics meat. Planted has invested a great deal of time, money, and passion into transforming its idea into a marketable product. And competition is fierce. That's why the start-up sought patent protection early. Planted was voted Swiss Start-up of the Year in 2021, and the small company is expanding quickly.
Dieter Meier’s ‘Oro de Cacao’
The chocolate industry, though usually regarded as traditional, is also extremely innovative and makes use of patents. Dieter Meier’s ‘Oro de Cacao’ may be a young start-up, but it is full of ambition thanks to new technology. ‘Finally unchaining cocoa’ is Oro de Cacao’s mission. Using a patented extraction procedure developed in collaboration with the ZHAW, the company produces chocolate that has a low sugar content without any bitterness and uses the natural flavors present in the cocoa bean.
EggField – an egg from the field
The start-up EggField, founded in 2022, has developed plant-based egg alternatives that work like real eggs in food processing: They foam, emulsify, bind or gel and still taste like real eggs. EggField extracts proteins and starch from legumes such as yellow peas and chickpeas, from potatoes, maize and tapioca and can reproduce the egg characteristics with this combination. EggField has applied for a patent for its product and the process. Another plus: EggField uses by-products of the food industry as far as possible, such as chickpea water, and thus contributes to the prevention of food waste.
Find out more about the importance of patents for start-ups here.
Patents protect innovation and at the same time they drive innovation. During our Swiss-Food Talk on August 15, three innovation experts discussed the importance of patents for the Swiss economy.
The European Patent Office reports more patent applications for 2022 than ever before. A particularly large number of patents were filed in the field of sustainable technologies - such as clean energy. Switzerland is still one of the most innovative countries in the world, ranking seventh in Europe. To ensure that this remains the case, policymakers must continue to advocate for research-friendly framework conditions in the future.