SA is ranked a lowly 30th in how its domestic policies support worldwide innovation, according to an analysis released this week by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), a US-based global technology policy think tank.

The findings are contained in a new report assessing 56 countries on the extent to which, per capita, their economic and trade policies contribute to, and detract from, innovation globally. These countries comprise close to 90% of the world’s economy.

The report urges policy makers to regard innovation as being as important as trade for optimising global growth.

"Robust innovation is essential for economic growth and progress," Stephen Ezell, co-author and ITIF’s vice-president for global innovation, said this week.

"As countries increasingly vie for leadership in the innovation economy, they can implement policies that try to benefit only themselves but harm the production of innovation in the rest of the world. Or they can implement ‘win-win’ policies that bolster their own innovation capacity while also generating positive spillovers for the entire global economy," he said.

"For innovation to flourish around the world, we need a system that is doing much more of the latter."

While previous research has ranked countries based on innovation capabilities or outcomes, this report assesses the effect of countries’ policies on the broader innovation system.

The authors examined 14 factors that not only support innovation domestically but have positive spillover effects globally, such as supportive tax systems and investment in research and development, human capital, and another 13 factors, such as forced localisation and weak intellectual property protection.

The report also found a strong correlation between countries’ contributions to global innovation and their levels of domestic innovation success, meaning that doing well domestically on innovation policy can also mean doing well for the world.

"While policymakers are primarily focused on the interests of their own citizens, they usually overlook the fact that adopting policies that also happen to be good for the global innovation ecosystem will compound the benefits for their citizens," said Robert Atkinson, ITIF’s president and a co-author of the report.

Mr Atkinson said the world was significantly underproducing innovation that was needed to tackle global challenges, including boosting productivity, improving health, and protecting the environment.

The report argues that nations should undertake a series of policies to improve their effect on worldwide innovation. It calls on the global development and trade community to establish a framework that better distinguishes between policies that are beneficial for the world’s innovation ecosystem and those that are detrimental.

"Moreover, policymakers need to push back more strongly against the misguided, but popular, perspective that developed nation innovation comes at the expense of developing nation economies and that because of that, the world needs a strategy for redistributing innovation, rather than growing it," Mr Atkinson said.

"…Leading nations should establish a global science and innovation foundation to fund scientific and engineering research on key global challenges, particularly through collaborative international research," the report says.

The report also notes that the top five nations doing the most to support global innovation while doing the least to detract from it, per capita, are Finland, Sweden, the UK, Singapore and the Netherlands.

The US is ranked 10th while Argentina is rated the worst.