Printed: 14.10.2019

Contact: Thomas Hylleberg
Published: 10.05.2017

Denmark ranked among world’s most inventive countries

Denmark is among the countries in the world that are best at thinking up new and groundbreaking ideas, according to new figures from the OECD. However, the rankings also reveal that Denmark is only mediocre when it comes to patents in IT.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Gyro Gearloose from Donald Duck cartoons put on a thinking cap when he needed to come up with a new, groundbreaking idea.

Inside the thinking cap lived three black ravens that walked around in circles as they pensively muttered “hmmm”. You could be sure that when Gyro Gearloose put on his cap, it would not be long before he had come up with a good idea.

It is probably doubtful that the thinking cap should have gained foothold in Danish inventor environments, but one thing seems certain: At Danish companies and public research institutions, good ideas are flourishing.

This is evident in figures from the economic cooperation organisation OECD that the Confederation of Danish Industry has analysed. The figures reveal that, relative to population, Denmark is among the global elite when it comes to thinking up new ideas and solutions and applying for patents in several different sectors.

The field in which Denmark is strongest is the biotech sector. Here, Denmark is the country that applies for most patents relative to population. Whereas Denmark applies for 33 patents per million inhabitants, second place on the list, Switzerland, applies for 21 patents per million inhabitants. And Denmark is miles ahead of many of the countries we usually compare ourselves to, such as Sweden, Norway, Finland and Germany.

In the environmental sector, Denmark is also among the global elite. Denmark hence takes the undisputed first place out of the 36 countries in OECD’s statistics. Denmark similarly comes in third on the list of the countries that apply for most patents in the pharmaceutical industry.

See also: Danish business use engineers for design work

Patents are important

So what’s the big deal, some might ask. But it is, in fact, a big deal. This is because patents provide the legal foundation allowing companies to protect their inventions. And it thereby also constitutes the basis that enables a company to earn money on its good ideas, explains Director at the Danish Patent and Trademark Office Jesper Kongstad.

“It’s great that a country is inventive. But this is of little value if the ideas cannot be converted into products or technologies that can be protected and profited from. The good news is that Denmark and Danish companies are European champions in this,” says Jesper Kongstad.

He argues that it is most relevant to compare Denmark to other European countries, because patent systems in the US and Japan differ significantly from those in Europe.

According to the analyses of the Danish Patent and Trademark Office, patent activity directly affects the macroeconomy, employment and exports.

“It is, all things being equal, positive when Danish companies invest in patents. But with that said, one should not patent everything. Patents are fantastic if they are part of the company’s strategy and an integrated part of the business.”

The Confederation of Danish Industry is also pleased with the fact that Denmark is thriving when it comes to taking out patents.

“It’s important that Danish companies take out patents and protect their good ideas and inventions. It is often a prerequisite for converting research to a commercial product and selling it in different countries,” says Deputy Director and Head of Research, Education and Diversity Charlotte Rønhof.

See also: Denmark is the world's best talent developer

Need for more IT investments

It is, however, not in all sectors that Danish inventors beat their international competitors. This is the case, for example, in relation to the future’s IT solutions. Measured relative to population, Denmark ranks tenth on OECD’s list of international patents in the IT sector – well behind several of the countries we usually compare ourselves with. Overall, Denmark ranks ninth on the OECD’s list of countries with the most patents per inhabitant.

At the Confederation of Danish Industry, the “mediocre” placement in the IT sector is worrying. 

“We’re lagging markedly behind Sweden - and also behind countries such as Finland, the Netherlands and Germany. This is unfortunate, considering how important digitalisation and Industry 4.0 will be for Danish companies and society now and in the future,” says Deputy Director Charlotte Rønhof.

She finds it problematic that public investment in IT only constitutes about five per cent of public research funds and that Denmark is simultaneously at the bottom of the OECD’s list in relation to prioritising technical and scientific public research.

“The Danish IT research that exists within the public sector and companies is perfectly satisfactory, but it is necessary to strengthen the food chain through more public investments in IT research, and it is necessary to educate a significantly higher number of graduates,” she says.

Wanted: More IT-patents

On the political side, parties also wish to see Denmark fare better in the IT sector.

“This is an area we should prioritise in the future. With future digitalisation and Industry 4.0, it is important that Denmark is in the lead when it comes to the newest research within IT,” says research spokesperson Brigitte Jerkel from the Conservative People’s Party.

Research spokesperson for Venstre Jakob Engel-Schmidt would also like to see Danish companies filing more IT patents.

“I am very interested in hearing how we can help the sector on its way. We are very focussed on how we can motivate more young people to go the IT route. In our 2025 plan, we had several suggestions for how we could strengthen companies’ investments in IT,” says Jakob Engel-Schmidt. 

Director of the Patent and Trademark Office Jesper Kongsted points out, however, that it is also worth noting that patenting IT is more difficult in Europe than in the US. In Europe, it is only possible to patent software that has a documented technical effect. This could for example be that the software makes a car drive further per litre of petrol.

“It is my view that Danish tech companies are doing perfectly well. But it is also true that there is a greater tradition for developing IT patents in Sweden and Finland,” says Jesper Kongstad.

Danish inventors fond of healthcare and environment

But why is it that Denmark does so well in the big picture? 

According to the Danish Patent and Trademark Office’s director Jesper Kongstad, this has to do with the fact that Denmark has a relatively well-developed and heavy industrial structure, a long tradition for using the patent system and good ideas. 

“Many Danish companies, particularly within pharma and biotech, are very knowledge-intensive, and they therefore also take out a lot of patents,” he says.

At the Confederation of Danish Industry, it is noted that the explanation can also be found in the long-standing tradition for research.

“In terms of research, Denmark is in a position of strength within pharmaceuticals, energy and environmental technology and in the food industry. This is also evident in terms of patents, where we stand very strongly,” says Deputy Director Charlotte Rønhof, while also adding:

“That being said, many countries are currently massively investing in research, and I am worried about the various cuts to public research that have occurred e.g. in relation to Innovation Fund Denmark as well as demonstration and development programmes in the energy and environmental sector (EUDP and MUDP). These are schemes that bring together researchers and companies in common projects that can lead to the patented inventions of the future.”

What can you patent?
Three conditions for patenting your invention:
It must be novel: The invention cannot previously be made public in Denmark or the rest of the world.
It must involve an “inventive step”: The invention must differ significantly from other existing solutions and inventions in the field.
It must be industrially applicable: To get a patent, the invention must be able to be used in industrial production.

What are the benefits of a patent?
A patent can make it easier to attract investors. A patent can help convince business partners of the value of your invention.
A patent gives exclusive rights to utilisation of your invention for up to 20 years. This means that others cannot produce or sell your invention without entering an agreement with you.
Patents provide security in partnerships. When your patent is approved, it is valid with retroactive effect from the application date. You can therefore reveal your invention to partners without losing exclusive rights or novelty value.
A patent is a good you can trade. You do not need to produce your invention yourself to earn money off of it. You can also sell the rights or license them to others for payment.
Source: Danish Patent and Trademark Office