If companies' r&d chops are measured by the number of patents received, the Japanese auto industry -- led by Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. -- appears to be outracing the competition.
Three Japanese automakers -- Toyota, Honda and Nissan Motor Co. -- earned places in Thomson Reuters' annual list of the top 100 global innovators published this month.
Five Japanese suppliers -- Aisin Seki, Bridgestone, JTEKT, Yamaha and Yazaki -- also made the list.
No other automakers broke into the top 100, although a couple of non-Japanese suppliers -- Valeo of France and Johnson Controls of the United States -- were included.
Several conglomerates with mixes of automotive and nonautomotive products also made the list. That group included companies such as Panasonic, Dow Chemical, Freescale, DuPont and Honeywell.
All told, 40 Japanese companies -- automotive and nonautomotive -- made this year's list, while 35 U.S. companies did so.
"The Japanese dominate year after year," said Bob Stembridge, a senior analyst who compiled the list. "They are innovating at an amazing rate."
Toyota and Honda, which both made the list for five straight years, have been technology leaders, Stembridge said.
The study did not rank companies on innovativeness but listed them based on four factors.
1. How many patents they were granted.
2. How many regions they filed the patents.
3. How many times each patent was cited by other companies.
4. The “success ratio” – that is, the percentage of patent applications that were granted.
The new list doesn't specify what types of patents the companies filed, but a report published by Thomson Reuters in January offers some insights.
According to that report, the top five automotive innovators from 2009 through 2013 were Toyota, Bosch, Hyundai, Honda and Denso. The list draws some interesting conclusions about the top innovators for particular technologies:
- For driver's assistance -- which includes features such as blind-spot detection, intelligent braking and pedestrian detection -- the clear leader was Bosch.
- For fuel economy, the top patent producer was Hyundai.
- For telematics, the leader was General Motors.
- For head-up display, the top companies were Johnson Controls, which subsequently sold that division to Visteon, and Universal Display.
- For autonomous driving, the top innovators were Toyota and GM.
The separation between automotive and nonautomotive inventions has become murky, Stembridge noted. Companies such as Google and Apple are figuring out how to integrate smartphones with infotainment systems. And conglomerates such as Panasonic, Dow Chemical and Freescale can find new uses for nonautomotive inventions.
"The auto industry is a perfect example of that," Stembridge said. "Recently it's been all about infotainment, [advanced driver assistance systems] and telematics, where you have computer chips. Technologies tend to bleed into each other."