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Innovation Barometer

Of Patents And Tariffs: Here Are The Surprising Results Of GE's New Global Innovation Barometer

Tomas Kellner
February 13, 2018
"What is the state of innovation? GE recently asked some 2,000 business executives from around the world, and the results are in.
What are some of the more surprising findings included in the 2018 GE Global Innovation Barometer? The United States and Germany lost some of their sheen as innovation champions – though the U.S. still towers head and shoulders above the rest — while Japan and China rose. Globally, business executives also see multinational companies as the leaders of innovation, more so than entrepreneurs, startups, and small and medium-size companies.

The survey also revealed that business executives are favoring protectionism as a way to keep jobs in their countries. Some 55 percent of global executives think that policies like import tariffs and quotas would benefit domestic companies. They believe that such measures would give businesses a competitive edge and protect the workforce. “These results were surprising to us and to many in the business community, and need to be recognized as a warning shot,” said Karan Bhatia, vice president of global government affairs and policy at GE. “The growth of protectionist sentiments now appears to be spreading even to the C-suite. We need to acknowledge that more must be done, both to explain the benefits of trade and to construct a more robust trading system that works for everyone.”

Marco Annunziata, GE’s former chief economist, told Axios that he was ""shocked"" by the results. ""We have known that protectionist winds were blowing but always thought that business was the last bastion of open markets and globalization,"" he said. ""It's a bit of a reality check.""

Top image: The Innovation Barometer found that executives were interested in additive manufacturing technologies like 3D printing. GE researchers are testing a new additive manufacturing technique called cold spray to build jet engine parts. GIF credit: GE Global Research.

Still, many of these same executives believe that governments are neither driving innovation nor able to keep up with the pace of change, and that regulations around privacy and data are stifling innovation. Those who believe that globalization is a driving force for innovation reflect this sentiment, saying that protectionism would give governments too much control and create barriers to investment.

The respondents were also worried about having enough skilled workers. Some 74 percent say a lack of skilled workers is an issue facing their industry, up eight percentage points from 2014.

This finding is even more urgent when you consider that many of the survey’s respondents are excited about new technologies like additive manufacturing, which includes 3D printing. They will need workers who understand the technology, given that some 53 percent believe that the field has yet to reach its full potential.

You can explore the full results here.