South Korea beats Singapore to clinch top innovation spot in Asia with K-pop power

A mural showing rapper RM from K-pop sensation BTS in Goyang, South Korea.
A mural showing rapper RM from K-pop sensation BTS in Goyang, South Korea.PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE - The Republic has retained its ranking as the eighth most innovative economy in the world for the third year running. But in the region, it has lost its top spot to South Korea, which possibly had a K-pop and K-drama edge this time.

In the South-east Asia, East Asia and Oceania region, Singapore slipped to No. 2 this year behind South Korea in first place. The East Asian country was second in the region last year.

This is according to the Global Innovation Index 2021 rankings of about 130 economies released on Monday (Sept 20) by the World Intellectual Property Organization (Wipo).

Wipo is one of the United Nations' specialised agencies. The organisation considers innovation as one of the most powerful drivers of economic growth and social development in the world.

Globally, this is the first time South Korea has made the top five, said Wipo, placing at No. 5. Last year, it was No. 10 worldwide.

The top four economies globally this year and last year are the same, with Switzerland at No. 1. The rest, in descending order, are Sweden, the United States and the United Kingdom.

On South Korea's spectacular rise, the IP organisation said the country "went up notably in innovation results and, in particular, in indicators for trademarks (being filed), global brand value, and cultural and creative services exports".

Wipo director-general Daren Tang suggested that the creative economy boost could be due to the country's K-pop and K-drama scene.

The organisation added that South Korea enjoyed substantial improvements in an area it is known for with its companies like Samsung - knowledge and technology outputs.

In a virtual statement on the country’s “high evaluation” in the index, South Korea’s Minister for Trade, Industry and Energy Moon Sung-wook said the country has expanded research and development investment in bioscience to help with vaccines and medicine, as well as in information technology to cope with digital transformation.

Efforts like these helped to propel a rapid recovery of South Korea’s economic indicators to pre-pandemic levels, he said.

Mr Moon added that the Korean entertainment wave has also received Billboard and Academy Award recognition, “expanding its influence in the global pop culture market”.

The Global Innovation Index is compiled based on two broad areas, namely innovation inputs and outputs.

Innovation inputs are factors in an economy that enable innovative activities. They include the effectiveness of an economy's government, access to infocom technology and intellectual property payments.

Innovation outputs refer to the actual results of innovative activities in an economy. They include knowledge and technology outputs likehigh-tech exports, as well as creative outputs like the amount of creative goods exported.

South Korea improved its input rank by one this year to No. 9 globally, while its output rank jumped five places to No. 5, according to Wipo.

As for Singapore, the country retained its No. 1 input rank globally this year. Its output rank also improved by two to reach No. 13.

The Republic  was also No. 1 in two new indicators in the index related to capital raising and financing - deals for venture capital investors and venture capital recipients.

The Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (Ipos) said  the country’s top rankings in the new indicators reflect “Singapore’s strong commitment to catalyse more investments into innovation and technology”.

“This is also a nod to our whole-of-government efforts to ensure timely (financing) for innovative companies, and to establish Singapore as a destination of choice for local and global innovative companies, especially those from the high-growth and high-tech sectors,” Ipos said.

Wipo added that the Republic has been among the top 10 most innovative economies consistently for the past 14 years.

After South Korea and Singapore, the other top five innovation leaders in the region - excluding Central, West and South Asia - are China at No. 3, Japan at No. 4 and Hong Kong at No. 5.

Globally, China is edging closer to the top 10, placing No. 12 this year, up two spots. It is the only middle-income economy in the top 30.

Wipo said that China has been progressing over the last few decades and its improvement this year is mostly on innovation inputs.

It said that "few countries have progressed as significantly and as regularly" as China in terms of creating a better environment for innovation. The country has also made strides in its university-industry research collaboration.

On innovation outputs, China increased substantially in the area of knowledge and technology.

Wipo's Mr Tang said this year's innovation index shows that in spite of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on lives and livelihoods, "many sectors have shown remarkable resilience - especially those that have embraced digitalisation, technology and innovation".

The organisation said that, interestingly, countries like Australia, the US, Germany and Japan increased spending on research and development last year despite the pandemic. Similarly in the private sector, research and development spending rose by around 10 per cent on average among companies last year.

"As the world looks to rebuild from the pandemic, we know that innovation is integral to overcoming the common challenges that we face and to constructing a better future," said Mr Tang, the first Singaporean to head a UN agency.