Innovation is, by its very meaning, future-looking (unless you are one of that rare breed of scholar -- the historian of innovation). The question is how far out in time one should reasonably look in attempting to fashion a view regarding the future directions of innovation. Against this backdrop, this Kat recently ran across an interesting report on scientificwatch.com entitled “The World in 2025—10 Predictions of Innovation”, here. This Kat is well aware of the challenges in seeking to identify future trends of any kind (as noted by Yogi Berra, here, the legendary American baseball player turned aphoristic seer-- “The future ain't what it used to be”). Nevertheless, given the provenance of the study, Thomson Reuters, and the vast informational resources at their disposal, this Kat believes that Kat readers will find the study—its purpose, methodology, results and conclusions, to be of potential interest.
“The aim of this project was to identify 10 technologies of tomorrow that will be in use in 2025 based on research and development currently identifiable in the literature of today – both scientific literature and published patents. The innovation predictions were discovered using flagship solutions from the IP & Science business of Thomson Reuters.”
“First, broad fields were identified from recently published data (over the last two years) using Thomson Reuters Web of ScienceTM and InCitesTM, for scientific and scholarly literature, and Thomson Reuters Derwent World Patents Index® and Thomson Innovation, for patents. Analysts scoured the vast array of information to identify the themes of emerging importance from 2012 and 2013 using citation rankings, most cited papers, hot topics and research fronts, beginning in InCites.
The top 10 fields of research based on emerging research front data were: Clinical medicine (2355); chemistry (1533); physics (1154); engineering (1059); social sciences, general (934); biology and biochemistry (933); materials sciences (823); plant and animal sciences (702); molecular biology and genetics (566); environment and ecology (554)
The most active research fronts were identified by ranking the number of citations per paper and assessing the number of core papers per front. A similar approach was used to identify the top 10 fields in patent literature, by locating the highest publishing fields and then drilling down into the essentials within these fields. Derwent Manual Codes were used to identify the patent fields with the highest number of inventions with a priority date of 2012 and onward. The International Patent Classifications with the most patents from the top 10 Manual Codes were then grouped, including family member data, to identify the emerging fields:
Computing and controls; communications; semiconductors; electric power engineering; plastics and polymers; scientific instrumentation; pharmaceuticals; refactories, glass, ceramic; food, disinfectants, detergents; electronic components
Broad fields from scientific literature and patents were then merged and compared to identify the most impactful areas. The following were the top areas identified:
Disease prevention and control; medical treatment; pharmaceutical preparation; energy solutions; digital communications; multimedia devices and lighting; instrumentation (biotech); physics (particle); novel materials (nano); genetics (fundamental research).”
“From these areas and based on further analysis of data in each field, the analysts were able to make the 10 predictions of innovation in 2025”.
In the words of the study, as listed below, the following predictions were made [there does not appear to be any significance to the order of these predictions]:
1. Dementia Declines
2. Solar is the Largest Source of Energy on the Planet
3. Type I Diabetes is Preventable
4. Food Shortages and Food Price Fluctuations Are Things Of The Past
5. Electric Air Transportation Takes Off
6. Digital Everything ... Everywhere
7. Petroleum-Based Packaging Is History; Cellulose-Derived Packaging Rules
8. Cancer Treatments Have Very Few Toxic Side Effects
9. DNA Mapping At Birth Is the Norm To Manage Disease Risk
10. Teleportation Is Tested (aka, per this Kat, “Beam Me Up, Scotty”, here)
What are we to make of this list based on the published report? Several thoughts came to mind. First, it is not clear what is meant by “innovation” and the plasticity of potential meanings is both an advantage and disadvantage. It is popularly observed that innovation goes beyond patents and, indeed, IP rights, more generally. That said, it is clear from what is reported that a primary focus of the study is patent data together with various bodies of published scientific information. The argument has been made that, as between the scientific publications and published patents, it is the former that provides much more information about cutting-edge developments that are connected with innovation. Moreover, trade secrets may also be contributing to innovative activity even if, by their very nature, it is difficult to gauge the extent of such contributions, both qualitatively and quantitatively. If so, then the degree of dependence or independence between the subject matter of patents and scientific publications (not to speak of the contribution of trade secrets to innovation), and the weightings given to patent data and scientific information, respectively, are highly material in making sense of the ultimate results of the study.
Secondly, this Kat wonders whether the results published in the study are more for navel-gazing and product promotion, or do they provide useful and usable information. Will this Kat digitally file away this list, resurrecting it only a decade hence to see how accurate it was, or do these results merit ongoing engagement by those interested in innovation? In this regard, the reliance on what appear to be proprietary Thomson Reuters database services cannot help but be noticed. There is, of course, nothing in principle untoward about using one’s own products. That said, given the goal of the project, namely to identify objectively major trends in innovation that will help define our world 10 years from now, the question has to be asked—would the results have differed if different sources of data had been used?
This Kat leaves the answers to these questions to the Kat readers themselves.