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The GII is compiled by French business school INSEAD and uses an average score from a country's innovation-fostering environment – assessed through institutions, infrastructure and general business climate – and a measurement of actual scientific and creative results.
Apart from Switzerland, five EU member states took top-ten positions: Sweden followed Switzerland in second place, Finland and Denmark came fifth and sixth respectively, whilst the Netherlands and United Kingdom came ninth and tenth.
The index also showed a marked geographic division between European countries, however, with western and core countries outperforming their eastern and southern neighbours.
Swiss patents lead the way
The index showed more than half of the top 20 countries in the world are European, but these were predominantly drawn from the north of the continent. Apart from the top ten they included Iceland (11), Germany (12), Ireland (13), Luxembourg (17), Norway (18), and Austria (19).
The highest-placed eastern European country was Estonia, at 23, ahead of Spain (32), the highest placed southern European country. The biggest European fallers were Belgium, which tumbled seven places from last year's list to 24th place, and Greece, which fell 17 places, and occupies the lowest position of any European country, at 63rd.
Soumitra Dutta, professor of business and technology at INSEAD, said: "Many people think of Switzerland as only having banks and they don't do anything else. However if you look at patents on a [ration of] GDP basis, it is ranked number one in the world."
European achievement divided, global players improving
But he also pointed to the geographic contrast in the general European results, saying that this pointed to a "worrying two-track course".
Gary Nugent, head of corporate services at Alcatel-Lucent, one of the report's sponsors, said that the rise of emerging nations such as China (29) and Brazil (47) showed that these countries – which have risen 14 and 19 places respectively on last year's table – are developing efficient innovation as their economies develop.
He said: "They really are generating a substantial amount of scientific and creative output from an environment which is not the most heavily invested or mature. That implies that if they are able to maintain that degree of productivity that will have a gearing effect."
Professor Dutta said this showed that innovation is "happening globally," adding: "It is not a question of it only happening in rich economies. So you need a global strategy for innovation."
Although the same basic approach was taken to the index this year as in the past, new metrics were included from international organisations and private sources. Partners for the report were Alcatel-Lucent, Booz & Company, the Confederation of Indian Industry, and the World Intellectual Property Organisation.
The European Commission Joint Research Centre at Ispra, Italy, performed an independent assessment of the robustness of the index, details of which are included in the report.
Following the adoption of the Innovation Union Communication in October 2010, the European Innovation Scoreboard (EIS) was reworked and renamed the Innovation Union Scoreboard (IUS).
Commissioned by the Directorate-General for Enterprise and Industry of the European Commission, the first Innovation Union Scoreboard was released by the European Commission in February this year.
That table similarly put Sweden top in innovation, followed by Denmark, Finland and Germany. But it found that the EU is failing to close the innovation gap with its main competitors, the United States and Japan.