Chinese Talent, American Enterprise

⑤ The United States and China produce more “super-mobile” inventors than any other countries.

Finally, some of the most prolific Chinese biotech inventors shuttle back and forth between China and the United States, filing patents from both countries. This group of “super-mobile inventors” are the outcome of increasing global talent mobility.

Some of these inventors may be working for the same multi-national company that is present in both countries, so the change in the country of residence merely reflects an internal cross-country transfer in the company.  Others pursue different professional opportunities in both countries.

Of all the inventors who have filed multiple U.S. biotech patents from two different residence countries, 11 percent flow between United States and China—more than any other pair of countries involving the United States as one party, including the U.S. and Canada (8 percent), the U.S. and Japan (7 percent), and the U.S. and India (2 percent).

Of the 1,279 super-mobile inventors moving between the United States and China, we predict 93 percent to be ethnic Chinese using Hanyu Pinyin method. The rest are probably non-Chinese employees of multinational corporations.

On average, each Chinese super-mobile inventor filed 12 patents during this period, with slightly over one-third of their patents filed with China as their country of residence. In terms of assigneeship, about 30 percent of the inventors assigned their patents only to U.S. companies, 42.3 percent assigned to both U.S. and Chinese companies, while a paltry 3.5 percent assigned their patents only to Chinese companies.

In final tally, 77 percent of the 12,442 biotech patents by the super-mobile inventors between United States and China are assigned to U.S. companies, 14 percent are assigned to Chinese companies, and the rest to others. In other words, contributions of the U.S.-China super-mobile inventors also flow disproportionately towards American companies.

We are not alone in pointing out the importance of international talent for American innovation. One report from the Partnership for a New American Economy (PNAE) found similar results: 76 percent of the patents awarded to the top 10 U.S. universities in 2011 had at least one foreign-born inventor; and inventors from China accounted for 20 percent of those patents. [1] In another critical field—artificial intelligence (AI) —a report from the Paulson Institute finds that the United States has a large lead over other countries with nearly 60 percent of the top-tier AI researchers domiciled in the United States or working for an American organization (Sheehan 2019). The United States, however, is not the largest source of top-tier AI researchers. It simply benefits from the mobility of top Chinese AI researchers who choose to study, work, and eventually settle in America. Our study joins these efforts that make us understand better how Chinese inventors, including PRC-born Chinese talent, contribute to science and innovation in the United States.

[1] Total patents awarded to the top 10 universities were 1,466 in 2011. See (Partnership for a New American Economy 2012)

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