If the U.S. wants to keep its long-time lead in global research and development, its policy makers need to act briskly in the face of growing advances by the likes of Finland, Russia, China and Germany.
That's the conclusion of a new R&D study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The report highlights some factors where the U.S. is dominant, such as total R&D spending, as well as scientific publishing and university leadership in chemistry, computer science, physics and medicine. But it also signals areas where other countries are outpacing the U.S.
Finland, for example, is one of seven countries that spend a larger share of gross domestic product on R&D than the U.S. does. The Finns are at 4.0 percent, followed by Sweden at 3.6, South Korea at 3.4, Japan at 3.3, Denmark and Switzerland at 3.0 and Germany at 2.8. The U.S. is at 2.7 percent.
Meanwhile, Russia, France, Korea, Slovenia and Canada provide more government support or tax incentives for business R&D than the U.S. does. Other markers that caught the OECD's attention involve the changing geographic mix of patent awards. Asian countries, particularly China, are coming on strong in information and communications technology awards. Meanwhile, Germany has established leadership in alternative-fuel vehicle patents.
The U.S.'s situation is hardly hopeless. By the OECD's tally, the U.S. spends $311 billion a year, adjusted for inflation, on R&D. That's more than the next two countries combined: China at $126 billion and Japan at $113 billion. Still, as countries around the world look to revive competitiveness and create jobs, the race for research leadership is bound to intensify.
(George Anders is a member of the Bloomberg View board of editors.)