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BATTERY TECHNOLOGY INNOVATION Geographic origins of innovation in battery technology

From Nigel Charig

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Most of the top patent applicants in battery technology are multinational corporations whose business and R&D activities span many regions and countries. This article looks at the geographical origins of inventions and innovations related to battery technologies*.

This article looks at the geographic origins of the inventions and innovation related to battery technologies to identify the top innovation centers in the world and their technology specialization profiles.
This article looks at the geographic origins of the inventions and innovation related to battery technologies to identify the top innovation centers in the world and their technology specialization profiles.
(Source: gemeinfrei / Unsplash)

The article uses international patent families, or IPFs, as the unit of observation. Each IPF represents a unique invention and includes patent applications filed at two or more patent offices.

Global distribution of battery inventions

In the period from 2000 to 2018 Japan was the clear leader in the two largest and most dynamic fields with battery IPFs at 40.9 % and electrical storage at 47.1 %; exceeding the second and third largest innovation centers combined. The Republic of Korea, Europe and the United States are next in these two fields, however European inventors have a very strong position in the smaller and less dynamic fields of mechanical and thermal storage.

While Japan has been building its global leadership in battery technology, it is noticeable that this has not yet translated into a large share of the global electric car market; Japan held just 2 % in 2019. The Republic of Korea has a similar share of the electric car market, but is a leader in stationary battery energy storage systems for utility-scale power grid services and behind-the-meter applications in buildings.

China has significantly increased its electricity storage innovation over the last decade, so its contribution is now similar to Europe’s. This reflects China’s recent years’ growth in electric vehicle manufacturing – from 11 % of the global market in 2011 to 50 % in 2019, with 1.1 million cars.

Germany largely dominates European battery technology innovation, with France in second place. Germany alone accounted for more than half of Europe’s IPFs in 2000-2018, and has four of the five European entities in the top 25 battery applicants.

Country profiles

For governments seeking to understand their country’s comparative advantage in battery technology, the Revealed Technological Advantage (RTA) index indicates a country’s specialization in battery technology innovation in relation to other countries. An RTA above one indicates that a country tends to produce more innovation in a given technology – batteries in this case – than it does in others.

Conversely, in the absence of significant policy incentives, countries with a lower RTA are likely to face a bigger challenge in developing the technological leadership needed to add significant and ongoing value to their economy.

The RTA ratings of 2014 – 2018 reveal that the Republic of Korea and Japan lead the competition, with very strong specialization in this domain, while the United States, China and European countries show no specialization. Germany is Europe’s frontrunner, with an RTA approaching 1 for 2014 – 2018.

For general battery-related IPFs, Japan has a particularly high share in battery developments at the cell level and other battery developments, with its shares in thermal management and integration into equipment somewhat lower – nevertheless it remains the leader in all four of these general battery areas. By contrast, Europe stands out as a major center of innovation in thermal management (29.1 % of IPFs) and 21.9 % of IPFs related to integration into equipment.

At the cell level, Japan tops the ranking in all fields, particularly for lithium and Li-ion batteries (45.9 %) and battery cell manufacturing (43.1 %). The Republic of Korea also performs well in all cell-level fields except for other chemistries, revealing its focus on lithium and Li-ion batteries. Conversely Europe and the United States hold relatively high shares in batteries with other chemistries, at 19.5 % and 25.0 %, respectively.

These differences between regions reveal the potential benefits associated with international research collaboration and exploiting complementary fields of specialization. While Europe and the United States’ relative contributions to innovation in batteries have decreased over the last five years, their involvement in international co-inventions has risen over the same period (from 8.3 % to 8.5 % in Europe and from 11.8 % to 12.4 % in the United States). These two regions’ collaborations have mostly been with one another.

By contrast, China’s rapid rise in battery innovation has been accompanied by a sharp decrease in the number of Chinese IPFs involving foreign co-inventors (from 13.2 % to 6.6 %). Likewise, the Republic of Korea and Japan, which have traditionally had relatively low levels of co-inventions, saw further decreases, with the share of foreign co-inventors dropping from 2.9 % to 1.8 % in the case of the Republic of Korea and from 2.0 % to 1.7 % in the case of Japan.

Relationships between regions and their innovative organization sizes

Innovative activity in Japan and the Republic of Korea is largely carried out by large or very large companies, with only a relatively small proportion of IPFs contributed by small companies (3.4 % in Japan and 4.6 % in the Republic of Korea) and universities or research organizations (3.5 % in Japan and 9.0 % in the Republic of Korea). By contrast, contribution from SMEs and universities is much larger in the United States (34.4 % and 13.8 %, respectively).

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In Europe, SMEs provide 15.9 % and universities and public research organizations provide 12.7 %. As a result, the region is the second largest source of IPFs from SMEs and universities after the United States, despite only ranking fourth for numbers of IPFs related to batteries.

*This article is based on Chapter 6 of the International Energy Agency’s White Paper titled ‘Innovation in batteries and electricity storage - A global analysis based on patent data’, issued September 2020.