The Rise of the Data-Driven Economy is an Opportunity for Innovators in Europe


The rapid rise of the data-driven economy is an opportunity for innovative companies in Europe and around the world to lead the way to the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR). Such activity could play a critical role in helping to rebuild global economies after the pandemic.

When discussing the new data-driven economy, which lies at the heart of the 4IR, industry analysts often refer to the words of the British data scientist, Clive Humby, who coined the phrase ‘data is the new oil’ in 2006. At the time, few businesses could have imagined the vast quantities of data that they would soon have access to and the value it could bring. However, fifteen years on, the role of meaningful data in informing business decisions and optimising revenues is much better understood, and a global innovation race is underway to harness its potential.

A global study published recently by the European Patent Office (EPO), entitled Patents and the 4th Industrial Revolution, has analysed trends in patent filings data linked to smart connected objects, which are involved in the development of the Internet of Things (IoT), 5G, big data, automation, machine learning and AI. The study indicates that the pace of digital transformation of global economies has increased significantly over the past decade. From 2010 to 2018, global patent filings for smart connected objects rose by an average annual rate of 20% over this period, nearly five times faster than other technologies. The rise in patent filing activity is most notable in the areas of connectivity and data management.

As might be expected, the US is the most innovative region when it comes to advancing 4IR technologies. A third of all international patent families (IPFs) in 4IR technologies filed at the EPO since 2000 originated in the US. By contrast, Europe and Japan were each responsible for a fifth of international patent families in 4IR technologies over the same period.

In Europe, Germany was responsible for 29% of all IPFs between 2000 to 2018, with the UK and France trailing with 10% each. In terms of notable clusters for 4IR innovation, London ranked in 16th position globally and second position in Europe, beaten only by Eindhoven. This provides some indication of the strong reputation that London has gained as a thriving hub of digital tech innovation. The Tech Nation 2020 report confirms that UK tech companies attracted a record £10.1 billion investment in 2019 and the sector accounts for 2.93 million jobs. 

One of the most dynamic and prolific fields of 4IR innovation involves the application of wireless connected devices, which when equipped with sensors, can detect changes in the physical environment. By harnessing AI, these devices are able to respond in an optimal way, without human intervention. Such technologies underpin the development of smart factories, autonomous vehicles, smart grids, healthcare robots and much more.

The role of intellectual property (IP) in helping economies to harness these fast-developing technologies can’t be understated. Patent ownership in key global markets gives innovators an exclusive right to commercialise their innovations either by manufacturing goods and selling them, or by licensing their IP to third parties. Cities like London are already widely recognised as R&D hubs for wide-ranging digital technologies, but without IP understanding and investment, their value-generating potential would be quickly eroded.

As global economies begin to look for ways to rebuild after the pandemic, digital transformation is likely to accelerate. Businesses will be seeking to leverage data as fully as possible and optimise its revenue-generating potential. Patent protection will enable these businesses to attract the investment they need to secure a brighter future.

Karl Barnfather is chairman of European intellectual property firm, Withers & Rogers. He specialises in advising innovative businesses involved in the development of consumer electronics, computer-based technologies and software.

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