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International comparison of innovation activities of construction

BMVBS-Online-Publikation 08/13, Ed.: BMVBS, May 2013

Institut Arbeit und Technik (IAT), Gelsenkirchen
Jürgen Nordhause-Janz, Dieter Rehfeld, Anna Butzin
Federal Ministry of Transport, Building and Urban Development, Berlin
Steffen Melchin

Federal Institute for Research on Building, Urban Affairs and Spatial Development (BBSR), Bonn
Stefan Rein


The study analyses patent applications of the European Patent Office (EPO) between 2005 and 2012 in the technological field of "construction". The overall aim is to assess the innovation activities of construction as seen from the perspective of patent applications. It compares patent applications both from a regional and international perspective with a focus on the German value chain of "construction". Furthermore, the study analyses in-depth the technology field of "energy efficiency and greenhouse gas reduction in buildings". In addition, the participation of German actors in European Research Programs is examined.

Between 2005 and 2012 5.850 patent applications in the technological field of "construction" originated from German applicants. Compared to other countries, these are the most applications in absolute and relative (17.6 percent) terms. Germany's leading position is underlined when looking at the number of patent applications in relation to the employees of the value chain "construction" (3.1.).

However, compared to other European countries, Germany's national specialization pattern in the technology field of "construction" is weaker than in other fields of technology. National specialization in the technology field "construction" is highest in Austria, Switzerland, Denmark, and Spain (3.2.).

In regional terms there is a strong relationship between applications in the technological field of "construction" and the overall patent activities in Germany. Nevertheless, we can see that in regions with weak overall patent activities (in most parts of Northern and Eastern Germany) there is specialization in the technology field of "construction". For these regions "construction" plays an important role for the regional innovation system and labor market (3.3.).

Germany, Austria, and Switzerland have been compared in sectoral terms. In summary, there are only small differences between the countries. More than 50 percent of the patent applications originate from industrial sectors; especially metal working, mechanical engineering, glass, stone and ceramic industries and plastic and rubber production in the three countries. The core parts of the construction industry accounts for 6.3 percent, universities and research institutes for 3.1 percent of patent applications. Compared with Austria and Switzerland, the share of German applicants coming from service industries is low (10.5 percent against 13.7 percent in Austria and 18.2 percent in Switzerland). Additionally, only 10 percent of all applicants in Germany generate 57 percent of all applications in the technological field of "construction". Therefore, the concentration in patenting activities is higher in Germany than in Austria and Switzerland. (3.4.).

6.1 percent of the German applications at the EPO are a result of cooperative innovation and patent activities. This share is below the European average (8.1 percent). In Europe cooperative patenting is highest in France (15.3 percent) and in the Netherlands (17.9 percent). Nearly one third of German co-patenting partners came from abroad, first of all from the US and Netherlands, followed by Austria and France. Vice versa, applicants from Austria, Denmark, Switzerland and Belgium worked together with co-operation partners from Germany. In sectoral terms, co-patenting often takes place between companies from different industrial sectors.

Renewable energy and climate protection is one of the fastest growing fields of technology in patenting since the late 1990ies. With one fifth of patent applications in the technological field of "energy efficiency and greenhouse gas reduction in buildings" Germany again holds the leading position in absolute terms. Germany's patent position is strong in fields of thermal insulation and related fields (roofs, walls, ceilings) and in energy efficient heating, cooling and aerating. Interesting differences can be found in the thematic profiles when comparing the global level. European patent applications are much more concentrated on energy efficiency in buildings (e.g. insulation technologies) than applications from the US and Japan which focus much more on technologies of climate protection that make use of electronic devices (4.)

The funding of European research aims at generating value through international cooperation. The German actors in European research projects differ from patenting actors. Industrial partners are leading in research projects, too. But their share is much lower than in the field of patenting. In contrast, German universities and research institutes are much more engaged in European research projects than in patenting. More than 40 percent of the analyzed European research projects in the field of construction with German partners are conducted from these actors. At the same time, service providers too are more present in research projects than in patenting. The core of construction industry counts for a limited, though rising share.

In regional terms, German partners of European research projects do not differ much from the spatial distribution of patent applicants. Germany's southern regions are dominating (due to the strong position of Fraunhofer Institutes in these regions). Cooperation partners in the research projects came from the United Kingdom and Spain. In thematic terms more than one third of the projects aimed at testing, evaluation, demonstration and documentation, one sixth at the development of components. 10 percent of the analyzed construction related projects focused on solar technology.

The abstract is part of the German publication "Indikatoren zur Innovationstätigkeit am Bau im internationalen Vergleich" - BMVBS-Online-Publikation 08/13, Hrsg.: BMVBS, May 2013, Berlin