Invention and diffusion of water supply and water efficiency technologies: insights from a global patent dataset


This paper identifies over 50 000 patents filed worldwide in various water-related technologies between 1990 and 2010, distinguishing between those related to availability (supply) and conservation (demand) technologies. Patenting activity is analysed – including inventive activity by country and technology, international diffusion of such water-related technologies, and international collaboration in technology development. Three results stand out from our analysis. First, although inventive activity in water-related technologies has been increasing over the last two decades, this growth has been disproportionately concentrated on supply-side technologies. Second, whilst 80% of water-related invention worldwide occurs in countries with low or moderate water scarcity, several countries with absolute or chronic water scarcity are relatively specialized in water efficiency technologies. Finally, although we observe a positive correlation between water scarcity and local filings of water patents, some countries with high water availability, in particular Switzerland or Norway, nevertheless appear as significant markets for water-efficiency technologies. This suggests that drivers other than local demand, like regulation and social and cultural factors, play a role in explaining the global flows of technologies. And finally, the extent to which innovation is “internationalised” shows some distinct patterns relative to those observed for innovation in technologies in general.