The Commission's DG Enterprise publishes the scoreboard as a benchmarking instrument to gauge progress in the EU's strategy to become the world's most competitive knowledge-based economy by 2010.
Last year's scoreboard sent the moderately optimistic message that the EU may be catching up with its competitors, this year's report offers a less positive picture. Key comparisons reveal that Europe is making progress in just three of the 11 areas that were selected as indicators of EU and US innovation performance, according to the CORDIS news service.
On the issue of patents, for example, the scoreboard found that the US is submitting more applications in Europe than Europeans are themselves. Meanwhile, the state of European high tech patenting in the US is judged to be 'extremely weak'.
Although the future implementation of a European patent may improve this situation, the report states that this will likely not be sufficient to overcome the underlying patenting weakness in many Member States. Commenting on the patent issue, Erkki Liikanen, Commissioner for Enterprise and the Information Society, said: "This weakness could justify a concerted EU effort to support European inventors with patenting their inventions in Europe and, even more importantly, in the US."
A new and widening gap with the US has appeared in public investment in R&D since 2001, although European business investment in R&D shows some signs of recovery, according to the scoreboard. The EU remains ahead of the US with regard to the number of its graduates in sciences and technology, although this lead might soon come under threat, it said.
Although Europe as a whole lags behind the US, leading EU countries are ranked ahead of the US and Japan for seven key indicators of innovation. The performance of Sweden exceeds that of both the US and Japan, while Finland also outperforms the US and is roughly equivalent to Japan. Europe's most innovative regions are found in Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands and Germany.
The southern member states of Greece, Portugal and Spain are continuing to catch up with the rest of the EU, says the report. The same is true of the accession countries, as the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovenia are actually ranked higher than some of the existing EU 15. Although most accession countries show a stronger growth performance than the EU average, a large part of this growth is due to the fact that they are improving from very low starting points. The report suggests, therefore, that positive trends among the accession countries may not be sustainable for much longer.
Pharma heads UK private R&D spending
Meanwhile, expenditure on R&D within the UK's private sector increased by three per cent in 2002 to £13.1 billion (€18.8bn), according to newly-published figures.
The sector with the highest R&D spending was pharmaceuticals, accounting for 25 per cent of the total amount. Other major sectors included aerospace, with 10 per cent, and audiovisual and communications equipment with seven per cent.
Of the total amount spent on research in UK enterprises, 59 per cent was invested by UK companies themselves, 27 came from businesses abroad, and the government accounted for seven per cent of the total. The overall figures for research spending within UK firms in 2002 represented approximately 1.2 per cent of the country's Gross Domestic Product.