Swiss industry’s innovative capacity 1997–2014: reassessed

Foresight 02:00


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Switzerland regularly comes top of rankings evaluating countries’ innovative capacity. Despite this positive assessment, an increasing number of voices are noting an alarming decline in the innovative capacity of Swiss industry. Where does the truth lie?

The data collected from innovation surveys conducted by the KOF Swiss Economic Institute at ETH Zurich form the basis for a detailed analysis of Swiss industry’s innovative capacity. The study draws on the ‘General Classification of Economic Activities’ (NOGA) from the Federal Statistical Office. Data from the years 1997 to 2014 was used, as no more recent figures were available at the time of publication. A few trends could be identified from the data analysed.

Development of the corporate landscape and research activities

  • Swiss industry has an increasingly small number of companies.
  • Many SMEs in Swiss industry are reducing their R&D efforts both at home and abroad. This is particularly affecting the fields of chemistry, machinery, metal products, textiles/clothing and watches.
  • SMEs in the electrical engineering and metal production sectors and large companies in the fields of chemistry, electronics/tools and foodstuffs are shifting many of their R&D activities abroad.
  • This concentration of research activities is most pronounced for SMEs in the electrical engineering sector and for large companies in the metal production and foodstuff sectors.

Development of new-to-company products and disruptive new-to-market products

  • Sales of new-to-company products have increased in relation to total sales for SMEs and large companies in all industrial sectors. These increases are particularly pronounced for SMEs in the printing, plastics, metal products, and pharmaceutical sectors.
  • Sales of new-to-market products have fallen in relation to total sales for SMEs and large companies in all industrial sectors.
  • Only SMEs in the pharmaceutical sector have shown increasing sales of new-to-market products.

Innovation efforts and product success

  • SMEs in the chemistry, electronics/tools and machinery sectors and large companies in the field of electronics/tools recorded a decline in sales of new products, despite increasing their R&D activities (measured in revenue).
  • SMEs in the textiles/clothing sector are giving up, reducing their R&D efforts and targeting declining sales with new products.


  • The study shows that the innovative capacity of Swiss companies is evolving very evenly across the board. One particularly alarming element is the widening gap between companies undertaking R&D and assigning it increasing resources and those renouncing it altogether.
  • The fact that Swiss companies are developing increasingly few truly new-to-market products and that research activities by many SMEs are declining offers food for thought.

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