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World class Swiss institutes surpass Oxford and Stanford in patent quality

drone test flight

Switzerland is especially strong in the areas of drones, security technology and photovoltaic energy.


An analysis of world-class patents developed by research institutions puts Switzerland in third place globally. 

A total of 671 Swiss patents in 17 technological fields were analysed for the comparison, which was commissioned by the Domain of the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology (ETH Domainexternal link) and carried out by BAK Economics. 

The results revealed that a third of the patents produced by the ETH Domain were world class. According to the authors, a ‘world class’ patent is one that is in the top 10% of internationally ranked patents in its field. Two main criteria for ranking the patents internationally were their technological impact (the number of citations of the patents by third parties) and their market coverage (the number of countries in which the patents were filed). 

Swiss patent quality was especially strong in the areas of drones, security technology and photovoltaic energy. Only American institutions Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) did better than the ETH Domain overall. 


ranking top ten

The comparison also revealed that China has overtaken Europe in many technological domains when it comes to patents. This result is even more noteworthy given that China filed its first patents in these sectors less than ten years ago. 

Switzerland’s ETH Domain institutions comprise two Federal Institutes of Technology in Zurich and Lausanne (ETHZ and EPFL respectively); and four research institutes: the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI), the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL), the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research (Empa) and the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (Eawag). 

In total, they produced 206 patents, 505 industry collaborations and 48 spin-off companies in 2017.

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