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China and South Korea lead BRICK nations in R&D

China and South Korea are pulling ahead of other BRICK nations in research and innovation as they spend more on R&D, produce more publications and file more patent applications, according to a report published this week by information and media firm Thomson Reuters.

The report, ‘Building Bricks: Exploring the Global Research Impact of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Korea’, finds that these nations, particularly China and South Korea, are closing the gap separating them from the rich European and North American countries that dominated research in the second half of the 20th century.

While the gross domestic products of all BRICK nations have increased dramatically in the past three decades, the report shows that both China and South Korea have also increased the portion of GDP they spend on R&D (GERD).

China increased its GERD 2.5-fold from 1996-2010 and is now approaching the EU average of 2 per cent, while South Korea’s GERD has been increasing even more steeply over the same period and is now approaching 3 per cent. Levels of GERD in Brazil, India and Russia, on the other hand, remained relatively constant over the same period.

The share of research spending from private sources in China and South Korea is also increasing. The report finds that both countries have achieved strong industrial confidence, as measured by business expenditure on R&D (BERD).

In 2010, South Korea’s BERD was 75 per cent of total R&D spending and China’s was 74 per cent, up from 60 per cent in 2000. Brazilian businesses, in contrast, contributed 48 per cent of the country’s total R&D spending and Russian businesses 61 per cent. BERD figures were not provided for India.

In the past three decades, the number of published articles indexed by Thomson Reuters has more than quadrupled, from 400,000 in 1973 to 1.75 million, according to the report. Publications from the BRICK countries made up more than 20 per cent of this output in the period 2007-2011. China’s output has surged the most of the five nations in the past decade. The country produced more than 150,000 publications in 2011, compared with 25,000 in 2000.

In terms of patents, 84 per cent of all the patents filed by the BRICK countries in 2010 were from China and South Korea, the report says. In 2011, China filed more than 520,000 patents, overtaking the US to become the country filing the most patents in the world.